Some Postures May Affect Hormones, According to Harvard Business School Study

Certain postures—like putting your hands behind your head and your feet up on a desk—could make you feel more powerful by affecting your hormones levels, according to a study by Harvard Business School Professor Amy J.C. Cuddy and her two research partners at Columbia Business School.

Through high-power poses—ones that take up a lot of space—people who feel chronically powerless might become more confident, which in turn could lead to improvement of general health and well-being, according to the research published Tuesday.

The research suggested that “in some situations requiring power, people have the ability to ‘fake it ’til they make it.’”

“It’s a feedback loop. It’s recursive,” Cuddy explained. “Those tiny things have the potential to have huge influence on people’s lives.”

In contrast, low-power posers—people who hold contractive postures such as folding arms—are more likely to feel powerless.

“This is the first demonstration, I think, to show that postures can affect your physiology,” Cuddy said.

In the study, Cuddy and her partners randomly assigned 42 participants to hold either high-power poses or low-power poses for two minutes.

The researchers then collected saliva samples for hormone tests and asked the participants to take a gambling test.

According to the study, people who held high-power poses saw a rise in the “dominance hormone” testosterone and a decrease of the “stress hormone” cortisol, whereas those who held low-power poses experienced the exact opposite.

Consistent with the hormone levels, the gambling test found test found high-power posers were more likely to take risks and focus on rewards.

Since people only need to hold such postures for a very short period of time to observe a hormone change, the findings may have a “huge effect” on how people control what they feel, Cuddy said.

“I like the idea that it can change the lives of people who feel powerless so quickly,” Cuddy added.

Further studies may focus on the mechanism of how postures lead to hormone level changes, according to Cuddy.

—Staff writer Sirui Li can be reached at sli@college.harvard.edu.

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