If you were like Superman or Wonder Woman, would you feel stronger?

Dominant or upright postures can help people feel — and maybe even behave — more confidently. A new analysis from Martin Luther Halle-Wittenberg University (MLU), the University of Bamberg and The Ohio State University has confirmed what small studies already suggested. The team evaluated data from around 130 experiments with a total of 10,000 participants. The results also refute the controversial claim that certain poses influence a person’s hormone levels. The study is published in the “Psychological Bulletin”.

Posture and body language are popular tools used in psychology. “In therapy, they can help people feel safe and experience positive feelings,” says psychologist Robert Körner of MLU and the University of Bamberg. Research on power poses deals with the extent to which very bold poses can influence a person’s feelings and self-esteem. A common example is the outstretched arms victory pose, which several studies have shown is intended to increase self-confidence. “However, many of these studies are inconclusive and were conducted with small sample sizes. In addition, studies sometimes have contradictory results,” adds Körner. Therefore, the team conducted a meta-analytic (quantitative) review in which they combined data from around 130 experiments from published and unpublished studies. Complex statistical methods were used to re-evaluate data on almost 10,000 people. The researchers wanted to know if posture influences a person’s self-perception, behavior and hormone levels.

The team found a link between an upright posture and a powerful pose and a more positive self-perception. “A dominant pose can, for example, give you more self-confidence,” says Professor Astrid Schütz, personality researcher at the University of Bamberg. The team found a similar correlation with behavior, eg task persistence, antisocial behavior, but these effects were less robust. In contrast, the claim that certain poses can stimulate the production of physiological effects, for example hormones, such as testosterone and cortisol, which has been claimed in previous research, has not been substantiated. “Findings on the physiological effects of power posing are not robust and have not been replicated by independent research groups,” says Schütz.

Through their work, the team was also able to identify some limitations of previous research. For example, most studies have operated without a control group; participants had to adopt a dominant, open or more submissive posture. Groups without these poses were rarely included. “Because of this, it is not possible to say where the differences come from, because only one of the two poses can have an effect”, explains Robert Körner. Additionally, nearly all of the studies so far have been conducted in so-called WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Wealthy, and Democratic) societies, so it is unclear whether the findings can be applied to other cultures. The differences between men and women and between different age groups, on the other hand, were not significant.

Study: Körner, R., Röseler, L., Schütz, A., and Bushman, BJ Dominance and prestige: a meta-analytic review of experimentally induced effects of body position on behavioral, self-reported, and physiological dependent variables. Psychological Bulletin (2022). do I: 10.1037/bul0000356

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