Body language – power poses

Posted by on March 4, 2013

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You are most probably aware that there are connections between our hormones, our emotions, and our behaviour.  But, are you aware that we can use body language to alter hormone levels and emotions, which can help us to modify our behaviour?

In May 2012, a Harvard psychologist named Amy Cuddy revealed results from her research linking body language to hormone levels, emotions, and behaviour.  Amongst other things, she identified a number of ‘power poses’ that can help change hormone levels and allow us to become more confident and assertive, and also less reactive to stress.

At about the same time (also May 2012), a Cambridge University neuroscientist named John Coates published a book about the effect of hormones on the performance of stock market traders.  In this, he looked particularly at how hormones can help shape bull and bear markets.

The hormones involved in both of the above are cortisol and testosterone.  Cortisol is our survival hormone, and testosterone is our dominance hormone (both men and women have testosterone – women have about 10 to 20% the testosterone level of men).  Cortisol levels rise when we experience stress, or when we are sleep-deprived.  Cortisol shuts down non-essential bodily processes, including the production of testosterone.  High levels of cortisol can dramatically change our behaviour.  We feel that we no longer have control, even if there is an obvious way out right in front of us.  We become risk-averse, despondent, and we are likely to give up!

In the animal kingdom, when two males shape up to each other, their testosterone levels rise.  This increases blood capacity to carry oxygen, quickens reaction speed, and increases fearlessness and appetite for risk.  In doing so, the animal is being prepared for competition.  After the contest, winners can experience a tenfold increase in testosterone levels.  However, losers’ testosterone levels can be suppressed by the same extent.  Humans, apparently, are no different.

A recent article in Wired Magazine (January 2013) offers details about further research by John Coates and also by a sports physiologist named Christian Cook, who is a pioneer in the study of hormones in athletic performance.  Sports scientists know that winners undergo a post-victory spike in testosterone.  Curiously, the fans of winning teams can also experience a surge in testosterone.

In regard to humans, Cook has another point: testosterone is not solely related to winning – it is related to the perception of winning.  His research shows that athletes who receive positive feedback can respond with up to 30 percent higher levels of testosterone than athletes who receive negative feedback. Interestingly, this effect can last several days, until the next competition, when the athletes who received positive feedback will perform better than those who had been criticised.

Images of various 'power pose' positions

Images of various ‘power pose’ positions

Whether it is stock market traders on Wall Street, or athletes at an Olympic Games, behaviour and performance is dramatically affected by two key hormones.  So – what does that mean for those of us who are not in such professions?  Could Amy Cuddy’s examples of ‘power poses’ be something for us, particularly when we are feeling a bit down, or when we need to prepare for a special meeting?  Let’s see what she has to say.

Our first free nugget for this post is Amy Cuddy explaining power poses in a Time video (5min:59).  I know this exceeds my “5-minute rule”, but if you do have the time, I strongly recommend this very informative piece of work:,28804,2091589_2092033_2109441,00.html

Our second free nugget is a short article “Power Postures Can Make You Feel More Powerful” from Wired Magazine (May 2012).  This offers a brief explanation about Amy Cuddy’s research.  It is easy reading and should take about 3-3½ minutes to read:

The third free nugget is a CNN video (4min:10sec), with Amy Cuddy and her co-researcher (Dana Carney) explaining power poses.

And the fourth free nugget is an MSNBC video (3min:38sec), with Amy Cuddy again explaining her power poses:

You might be wondering “why so many video options?”  While they all cover much the same information, for those who are ‘time-poor’, the shorter ones might be preferred.  Below, you will find a link to the video of Amy Cuddy’s talk on TED (TED is a non-profit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. It started in 1984 as a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, Design.).  If you have the time, this is well worth watching.

Coming next:  Learning – 21st Century style (in the meantime, enjoy the free nuggets!).

Link to Amy Cuddy on TED:  “Your body language shapes who you are” (21min:03sec):   (Note: this is an HD version – 720p)

Link to The Financialist July 2012 article “The Hour Between Dog and Wolf” (Note: this brief article should take only about 3 minutes of reading time):

Link to Wired Magazine January 2013 article “The truth behind testosterone: why men risk it all” (Note: this article is quite lengthy – probably around a 10-15 minute read):


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6 Responses to Body language – power poses

  1. Helmuth

    Truly fantastic nuggets.

    If you have the time, follow the link to Amy Cuddy on Ted Talks. If you don’t, I suggest you make time – she provides great information, good context and some useful practical applications.

    Thanks for sharing Marlene.

    • Marlene Hopkins

      Hi Helmuth,
      Thanks for your comment.
      I do agree – Amy Cuddy’s TED talk is well worth the watch.
      One of the things I particularly like about her is that it is not just research results and theory that she presents. Her own story of how she recovered from a serious car accident is quite inspiring (this is about 16 minutes into the video).

  2. Bridget River

    I really appreciate that you collected these resources on one page.
    I’m setting a daily goal to do power poses and this article saves me from having to collect links for inspiration.

    If you check out I am on Healthy Habiteers and Healthy Booklovers teams. Both teams recommend power poses.

    • Marlene

      Hi Bridget,

      Power poses are so useful and so easy to do. I also recommend them, for all manner of situations.
      As you say on your Healthy Habiteer team page – they have a direct impact on our self confidence.
      Thanks to Amy Cuddy, we can all benefit from this amazing discovery.
      Your Healthy Habiteers look pretty awesome – well done (and keep up the power poses!).

  3. Cat Atherton

    Outstanding article, thank you Marlene!
    And thank you Bridget for pointing your Health Month friends to it.

    I recommend power poses to all the women I work with and several have shared that it did have a positive impact on the outcome of their job interviews.

    I believe other applications could be:
    – Mood swings associated with pre-menopause and menopause,
    – Mood swings associated with andropause (men lose 1% testosterone per year starting in their thirties).

    • Marlene

      Hi Cat,
      Thank you for your comment and your encouragement.
      I am very much into helping people unlock their true potential.
      For so many of us, Amy Cuddy’s power poses can be quite revolutionary.
      Understanding more about what makes us tick (like our hormones) is quite liberating.
      Thank you also for your notes about mood swings – I will pass your tip about andropause on to my husband!
      Take care, and keep sharing the good word about power poses.

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