The research community seems to have accepted the concept of “power posing,” or the notion that adopting a powerful pose can have a positive psychological effect during high-pressure professional situations. The theory was posited by Dana Carney and Andy Yap—at the time, of Columbia University—and Amy Cuddy of Harvard. The researchers found that when groups of students adopted the body language of a dominant boss, they had higher levels of assertiveness, lower levels of stress hormones, and were more likely to take risks in a gambling task.
Their findings became widely circulated. Cuddy became an expert on the topic. Her TED Talk on power poses is one of the series’ most-viewed videos of all time, and she’s received hefty speaking fees to talk on the topic, according to New York Magazine.
However, Carney, now a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, published a memo on her website in which she expresses skepticism about her previous research on power poses. The main takeaway? “I do not believe that ‘power pose’ effects are real,” she wrote.
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One of the main reasons for her doubts is certain decisions she, Cuddy, and Yap made during the research process. For instance, she pointed to their practice of “p-hacking,” an ethically dubious way of making one’s research seem more conclusive than it actually is. Put simply, it involves running a variety of tests and reporting only the results that support a desired conclusion, thus allowing researchers to overstate the significance of some of their findings.
Carney also noted that too many of the people studied were aware of the hypothesis being tested. That’s generally considered bad scientific practice, since their knowledge can affect how they respond to an experiment. Additionally, those who participated in the gambling task were informed that they had won, which may have been why they felt a surge of confidence, rather than because they adopted a power pose.
Carney’s note concludes with a harsh rejection of her research. “I do not teach power poses in my classes anymore. I do not talk about power poses in the media and haven’t for over 5 years,” she wrote. “I do not think the effect is real.”