The link from expansive postures to feeling and acting in a powerful way was elegantly demonstrated in a recent publication in Psychological Science. Dana Carney and Andy Yap from Columbia University and Amy Cuddy from Harvard University found that open, expansive postures (widespread limbs and enlargement of occupied space by spreading out one’s body), compared with closed, constricted postures (limbs touching the torso and minimization of occupied space by collapsing the body inward), increased feelings of power and an appetite for risk. To measure the appetite for risk, these researchers gave participants $2 and told them they could keep this money or roll a die and risk losing the $2 for a payout of $4 (a risky but rational bet since the odds of winning were 50/50). Participants who had been placed in the expansive posture reported feeling significantly more “powerful” and “in charge” and were also 45% more likely to roll the die.
More impressively, expansive postures also altered the participants’ hormone levels. Using salivary samples, Carney and colleagues found that expansive postures led individuals to experience elevated testosterone (T) and decreased cortisol (C). This neuroendocrine profile of High T and Low C has been consistently linked to such outcomes as disease resistance and leadership abilities. Although past research has found that occupying a powerful role leads to expansive postures, Carney et al.’s paper is the first to investigate the reciprocal relationship – the causal effect of posture on the mental experience of power.