Strange 'power pose' adopted by George Osborne has no effect, says power pose expert

Professor Dana Carney says original experiment on poses was flawed and unreliable

Gabriel Samuels
Wednesday 28 September 2016 14:14 BST
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George Osborne was ridiculed for standing with his legs wide apart at the Conservative Party conference last year
George Osborne was ridiculed for standing with his legs wide apart at the Conservative Party conference last year

The ‘power stance’ briefly and unsuccessfully adopted by George Osborne and Theresa May at last year’s Conservative Party conference has no effect whatsoever, says a psychologist who first expounded the virtues of the pose.

A study on the subject of power stances in 2010 appeared to reveal those who consciously stood with their legs wide apart had higher levels of testosterone and were more assertive as a result, as well as being more likely to take risks.

Professor Dana Carney of California University was involved in writing the original research paper, but now believes there is little evidence to show the expansive pose changes how a person is perceived.

“Since early 2015 the evidence has been mounting suggesting there is unlikely any embodied effect of non-verbal expansiveness (vs. contractiveness) - ie, ‘power poses’ - on internal or psychological outcomes,” Prof Carney wrote on her website.

“As evidence has come in over these past 2+ years, my views have updated to reflect the evidence.

“As such, I do not believe that ‘power pose’ effects are real”, she added, before listing the numerous flaws in the original experiment - including “flimsy” data and a small sample size of only 42 participants.

Furthermore, Prof Carney said all the experimentees were aware of the hypothesis of the experiment, which will inevitably have altered the outcome.

Dr Amy Cuddy has made a career out of the virtues of power posing

Since the 2010 study, larger experiments on the subject have shown no similar effects - leading to doubts throughout the scientific community as to whether the power pose works.

Professor Carney’s co-author Dr Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist at Harvard Business School, has made herself into a ‘power-posing guru’ and presented a hugely popular TED Talk on the subject.

However in May this year, University College London published a study supporting the original claims. Scientists found that women are more likely to be taken seriously at work if they stand in a ‘masculine way’, with a wide stance.

Over 1,500 subjects were shown a video of a woman delivering a speech, while standing in several different ways. Women who chose the power stance, with feet wide apart were labelled more confident and knowledgeable by participants.

The benefits of the pose were circulated last year among political consultants, leading to Mr Osborne and Ms May adopting it at the conference. Their forced attempts were subsequently ridiculed, and it appeared the pose was hastily scrapped.

Earlier in the year, Dr Cuddy said men and women should not adopt the power stance in meetings, as it can make others feel intimidated and become distracted.

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