It is pretty popular for people to explore the idea of taking power postures to achieve success in interpersonal interactions, especially negotiations, but is it empirically valid?
A recent study by Drs. Joseph Cesario and David Johnson wades into this debate with a resounding rejection of the idea of power postures’ efficacy. In a series of experimental studies, they test whether taking a power posture in realistic situations accomplishes anything. Their null results fly in the face of some established precedent.
Humintell has previously blogged on power postures, including on research finding that taking on such postures can make people feel more powerful. It is logical to assume that such a feeling will manifest in more confident behavior, but it is likely this implication that Drs. Cesario and Johnson would dispute. In fact, they situate their research as a response to the same work by Cuddy which we blogged on!
Despite the popularity of TED talks devoted to power posturing, the current study delves into the evolutionary arguments in favor of power posturing. They conclude that it would make little evolutionary sense for an animal to act differently just because it is presenting the illusion of expansiveness or power.
In order to assess these claims, they conducted a series of experiments. The first of these asked participants to watch a TED talk video on power poses and attempt to consciously hold power poses. These were contrasted with two studies where participants were not told why they should hold such a pose, and two of these studies were conducted with multiple participants in the same room.
Each participant was then brought together to compete in various tasks involving gambling, abstract thinking, and negotiation. These were intended to see if using the power pose would actually enhance abilities or competence in any of these tasks. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they found that the participants who had been exposed to the TED talk did reliably utilize the power posture in these exercises.
Overall, there did not seem to be any evidence that power poses had beneficial effects. This should cast doubt on a lot of the established literature. The study authors note that their sample sizes were generally larger and that there were consistent problems in replicated past findings.
They even asked participants to record whether their power pose led them to feel greater senses of power, and this again failed to predict much success in terms of outcomes.
This is an exciting and emerging field of research, so it is pretty natural that there would be disparate results and contradictory findings. We are definitely hoping that future researchers continue to delve into this question!
In the meantime, there are some pretty tried and true tactics for better negotiating and reading people. Check out some of our training tools here!