March 21, 2019

One of of the most popular Ted Talks of all time includes this one in 2012 by Amy Cuddy called "Your Body Language May Shape Who You Are."   

It is often referred to as The Power Pose Talk or the Wonder Woman Pose Talk.  Some articles say it has been viewed 42 million times!

The Power Pose

In this talk, Amy Cuddy examines this question: Do our nonverbal behaviors govern how we feel about ourselves?

Specifically, she addresses two types of body language related to power and powerlessness. 


Low power poses reduce your physical space in the room, bring your body in tighter, or have your hands covering your body. They make you smaller and protect your internal organs. 


In contrast, she describes the high power poses as open, chin up and taking up physical space within your environment.  There are five variations of the power poses, but the one that people often remember the most is the "Wonder Woman" pose with your hands on your hips and your feet spread apart.

The Power Poses Experiment

The original research, The Benefit of Power Posing Before a High-Stakes Social Evaluation, was conducted in 2010 and is openly available through the Harvard Library and can be found here

The abstract is cited here as background to the experiment:

The current experiment tested whether changing one‘s nonverbal behavior prior to a high-stakes social evaluation could improve performance in the evaluated task. Participants adopted expansive, open (high-power) poses, or contractive, closed (low-power) poses, and then prepared and delivered a speech to two evaluators as part of a mock job interview, a prototypical social evaluation. All speeches were videotaped and coded for overall performance and hireability, and the potential mediators of speech quality (e.g., content, structure) and presentation quality (e.g.,captivating, confident). As predicted, high power posers performed better and were more likely to be chosen for hire, and this relationship was mediated only by presentation quality, not speech quality. Power pose condition had no effect on body posture during the social evaluation, thus highlighting the relationship between preparatory nonverbal behavior and subsequent performance. ~ Research Conducted By Amy J. C. Cuddy & Caroline A. Wilmuth, Harvard University, Dana R. Carney, University of California at Berkeley

So, Naturally Everyone Starting Power Posing Interventions

Based on this research and the corresponding, wildly popular Ted Talk, this intervention became popular among life coaches and mental health professionals.

Play Therapists love superheroes and there is even a book about it called Using Superheroes in Counseling and Play Therapy by Dr. Lawrence Rubin.  

A quick Google search yields tons of example worksheets for children to color, create, and otherwise utilize their superhero strengths. 

So, it stands to reason that play therapists and child counselors would easily embrace this research and encourage children to adopt this power stance during times of stress. 

The Scrutiny of the Power Pose Research

But any Ted Talk with 15 million views (many articles quote it as 42 million views) is going to come under intense scrutiny.  

It seems that many people were inspired by this talk and wanted to replicate the results or expand on the research in some way.

Then others, well, they labeled her findings as "junk science" and set out to prove that her research was flawed and overly simplified.

Therapists started hearing the reports that the Wonder Woman pose had been debunked.  It was being said that this research was as false as these play therapy quotes that I wrote about recently. 

The scrutiny is summarized in articles like this one from Science Daily that discussed how eleven new studies found no significant effects from power posing. 

Even one of the co-authors of the study, Professor Dana Carney, posted publicly on her website this message:  

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. ~ Professor Dana Carney

Cuddy Sends A Powerful Response

The wave of criticism against Cuddy was overwhelming and very harsh.  

She responded with new research that aims to show that her original research was legit.  Her new analysis includes 55 studies that demonstrate the effectiveness of power posing (now referred to as postural feedback).  

This new research seems to support the claims that changing your posture can make you feel more powerful. Although, the claims that it alters your hormones are still weak, at best. 

Anecdotally, people have tried power posing on their own with mixed results. Perhaps it provides a momentary boost in your confidence.  It is possible that it can create enough of a momentary shift to have  a ripple effect throughout a  job interview, a meeting, or a stressful social situation.

And because it is free, quick (only 2 minutes required), has no fancy equipment and will certainly not cause may still be worth a shot.  

What do you think?  Is power posing worth your time as a therapeutic intervention or not?

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About the Author

Jen Taylor, LCSW-C, RPT-S is an EMDR Approved Consultant and Certified Journal to the Self Instructor.  She is a therapist specializing in complex trauma, an international play therapy teacher and a published writer of multiple play therapy chapters.  Jen is the creator of the original 2017 Play Therapy Summit and many other innovative programs for mental health professionals.  Jen uses writing therapy, play therapy and expressive arts for her clients and for other mental health professionals so they can lead more joyful and meaningful lives.  Jen encourages people to try new things and create daily habits that allow for incremental progress towards previously unimaginable results.   Jen is a travel enthusiast, an avid reader, and a girl who lifts weights and runs for fun.  

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