Power of Posing

Photo by Duane Zehr

By Matt Hawkins
June 25, 2015

In a popular 2012 Ted Talk, Harvard Business School professor Amy Cuddy created a pop culture buzz when she said that people could alter their confidence levels by adopting a “power pose” for a few minutes. That research sparked questions for Bradley psychology major Weston Edwards ’15, who applied the research to stressful settings.

The studies by Cuddy and Edwards, of Pekin, Illinois, analyze the body’s hormonal balancing act between “stress” hormone cortisol and “confidence” hormone testosterone. Power poses — stances in which the body is open and relaxed — increase testosterone and decrease cortisol. 

Noting Cuddy’s research methodology was rooted in hypothetical situations, Edwards saw an opening for his honors thesis. He tested her conclusions on people in stressful situations and found noticeable differences in arousal if a person spent a couple minutes in a power pose beforehand.

“It was cool from a research perspective that standing a certain way does affect neuroendocrine levels,” Edwards said. “From an applied perspective, it’s interesting to see if it affected the way people react.” 

Edwards measured sweat secreted on people’s sweaty palms, which gave him added insight into one of the most common signs of nervousness. In his study, arousal levels decreased and stayed diminished throughout stress-inducing situations in subjects who held a power pose before entering the testing environment.

This discovery helped quantify Cuddy’s research in a practical setting. Edwards’ data better described the notion that a person can “fake it to make it” to decrease unneeded stress before a job interview, test or speaking engagement.

“For so many people, the idea that something quick could relieve physiological response to stress is cool,” Edwards said. “Do you get red faced or have sweaty hands? The pose seems to reduce that arousal to anxiety evoking events. Anxiety inhibits your ability to think clearly, but this may restore some of that.”

The Honors program offered Edwards a unique research opportunity that stands as one of his top college experiences, noting that he didn’t expect to analyze electrophysiological data as an undergraduate. It also led to a research presentation in front of peers at the Midwestern Psychological Association’s annual conference. 

“This was awesome. It’s why I’m glad to be at Bradley,” he said. “I want to do research in grad school, but I didn’t realize I could get the opportunity now. The research, especially as I worked with faculty, has been one of my best experiences as a student.”

Edwards hopes to follow faculty mentor Dr. Lane Beckes into affective neuroscience research in grad school.