In the very popular NPR program On Point, Tom Ashbrook’s guest on Wednesday, the 3rd of February, was social psychologist and Associate Professor of Business Administration and Hellman Faculty Fellow at Harvard Business School, Amy Cuddy, who is the author of the recently released publication “Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges.”
Professor Cuddy is quick to distinguish between what she thinks of as “power poses” (such as the stance of Wonder Woman, as a New York Times article describes, depicted with a straightforward gaze, her hands on her hips and her feet flat on the ground, a pace apart; or a man with a straightforward gaze, his hands behind his back, and his feet propped up) that one strikes in private, and not in interactions with others.
Tom Ashbrook noted that in her appearance recently on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert they spoke about some of the various stances and power poses, such as the one known as ‘man-spreading:’
“Man-spreading is this idea that men will sit with their knees wide apart and their hands behind their head … the thing is, I don’t want anyone doing that … not in ‘interactions,’ not in front of others. If it makes you feel good when you’re sitting alone, that’s fine, but the thing that’s funny about dominant body language is that — in interactions — it causes the other person to collapse, to complement your dominant posture with submissive posture. and the interesting thing about this, is that it’s different from other non-verbal interactions.
Typically we’re mirroring each another, or mimicking each other, but when one person really starts to show dominance, the other person tends to close up. We don’t want that. That’s not the interaction that we want to be having with people, and that’s part of why you do this in private.”
The initial experiment that Professor Cuddy conducted with Dana R. Carney and Caroline A. Wilmuth, “The Benefit of Power Posing Before a High-Stakes Social Evaluation,” involved the act of gambling, and the operative approach in the ‘posing’ behavior involved the intentional manipulation of testosterone (the steroid hormone found in both humans and other mammals), which is primarily secreted by the testicles of males and, to a much lesser extent, secreted by the ovaries in females. The other steroid hormone that is intentionally manipulated by the striking of these stances and ‘power poses’ is cortisol. (which is released in response to both the perception of danger or other mental or physical stress, or from low blood-glucose.
In this experiment the individual provides a sample of saliva in which levels of both testosterone and cortisol are measured prior to the start of the experiment and at its conclusion. The individual is asked at random to strike either a high-power pose or a low-power pose in a private setting for two full minutes, and then to engage in a high-stakes activity; and in this instance it is gambling. In addition to measuring these hormones, other vital signs were also measured, such as heart rate and respiratory rate.
The experiment was successful in that it was predicted that those who struck a high-power pose felt confident and more empowered to take greater risks; and correspondingly those who struck a low-power stance or pose,appeared to be less confident and more risk-averse.
In a job interview setting, (see the TED Talk that accompanies this article) there is inherently an imbalance of power; yet for a significant percentage of individuals, their striking a stereotypically male-dominant posture in a private setting can have the effect, somehow, of engendering greater self-confidence.
It is not yet clear exactly how this happens — possibly there could be the kind of musculoskeletal effects of one’s taking the liberty to strike a confident posture that leads to the experience of greater confidence in a similar way to the phenomenon that the act of smiling — or an electrical stimulation of the muscles that are involved in the act of laughter — seems to have the effect of generating a sense of happiness and well-being, even when that smile or simulation may have been artificial.
It is interesting that a lack of self-confidence can be successfully mitigated ‘artificially” through this kind of self-conscious “emotional” (hormonal) manipulation – from the outside, in – through ‘posing,’ or ‘acting as-if’ rather than through a more “rational” (intellectual and sensible) manipulation, such as the application of “reason,” where the individual recognizes the difference between what it means ‘to be, rather than to seem; to be, and there is an awareness of collegiality, viz.”I have reason to believe that I am able to provide a very useful service to this organization (whether for a commercial enterprise, or the public service or educational sector, or the arts, or any other position) and I will approach the interview with confidence in my skills and in my personal integrity and goodwill,”
Presumably, in cases where such a process is not such a good fit, there is also a percentage who will trust that this “actual” approach is also of value to one’s career — over time — than the “virtual” approach that is described here, which must rely upon a kind of conscious autosuggestion based on the artifice of emotional manipulation generated by acting ‘as if’ as a form of very benevolent hoodwinking of one’s self, which could have a very positive outcome..