Friday, June 1, 2012

Becoming a pseudo-alpha scientist

  In my last post I talked about a study that found that wearing a white doctor’s coat improved participants’ perception and attention skills. It’s an example of something outside of us influencing our abilities and perceptions. We take our cues from so many things – facial expressions, clothing, and body language. I recently came across a really intriguing video from one of the authors of the study “Power posing: brief nonverbal displays affect neuroendocrine levels and risk tolerance” (Carney et al., 2010).
The presenter, Amy Cuddy, takes us through the study, which demonstrates the importance of body language.  The mechanism of a phenomenon is really important to me, as it indicates that a physiological process underlies the response, and that any response is not just a statistical fluke (i.e., you had a huge number of participants, which made your small difference nonetheless significant).  In this case, testosterone (good for confidence) and cortisol (bad, related to stress) levels respond to your own body language.

  In short, you should do a power pose (an open, confident pose, like Wonder Woman with hands on hips) for a few minutes before a presentation. That pose triggers a release of testosterone which relaxes you more confident. If you can, keep your body open while doing the presentation itself, as it signals your dominance and confidence. Your audience will pick up on that confidence and respond to you, and your message, in a positive manner.  I really like the idea of standing around like Wonder Woman. And that feedback between physical stance, the body’s physiology, and other people’s perception of you, is really cool. Although we can easily pick up on someone else’s body language and respond to it, it is amazing to me that our body responds physiologically to our own poses.

  Even though I have talked in front of undergraduates, colleagues, and my committee, I’m not what you’d call a forceful presence. Unfortunately, we’re biased towards alpha body language, and a retiring attitude can be a detriment in a leadership position. So go out there, stand around like a super hero, and feel that testosterone flow!

Carney, D. R., Cuddy, A. J. & Yap, A. J. (2010) Power posing: brief nonverbal displays affect neuroendocrine levels and risk tolerance. Psychol Sci, 21, 1363-8.


  1. i love this idea. I am going to do the wonder woman pose before every rehearsal and meeting. interesting thoughts and great writing as usual. Kathy

  2. Thanks Kathy! Perhaps you could get a white coat too, though it may be a bit out of context...