How To Use Power Poses To Boost Confidence
Christopher Philip

“High-power” poses for short time periods can summon an extra surge of power and sense of well-being when it’s needed” ~ Harvard Business School professor Amy J.C. Cuddy.

Amy Cuddy Power PosesIn their paper “Power Posing: Brief Nonverbal Displays Affect Neuroendocrine Levels and Risk Tolerance” researchers Carney, Cuddy and Yap out of Columbia and Harvard University found that not only can you fake it until you make it, but you can fake it until you become it. Literally!

The researchers found that by simply holding “high-power” nonverbal postures for short durations of time, that the body will release the hormone testosterone and simultaneously reduce the release of cortisol. Conversely, consciously adopting “low-power” nonverbal displays and postures had the reverse effect. These boosted the release of cortisol and reduce the production of testosterone.

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Amy Cuddy High Power Pose 1Amy Cuddy High Power Pose 3Amy Cuddy High Power Pose 2

Amy Cuddy Low Power PoseTestosterone is normally associated with maleness and is the predominant male sex hormone, but it works similarly in women as well. It boosts ego and confidence, produces feelings of strength and wellbeing which in turn leads to higher tolerances for risk. Cortisol, on the other hand is a stress hormone and is released when a person suffers emotional and physical pain. Long term effects of high and persistent levels of cortisol are well documented and lead to a myriad of negative physical and emotional outcomes such as impaired immune function, hypertension and memory loss.

The results have wide implications. For one, it shows us that there is a tie between our nonverbal body postures and our endocrine system. Really, how you hold you body is directly tied to your overall wellbeing. This is amazing stuff. For some time, researchers have known that smiling produces the same sort of emotions surrounding happiness, but these were more or less measured subjectively. To find a link between the body and its hormones is fascinating. “Our research has broad implications for people who suffer from feelings of powerlessness and low self-esteem due to their hierarchical rank or lack of resources,” says HBS assistant professor Amy J.C. Cuddy. “It’s not about the content of the message, but how you’re communicating it.”

High-power poses where the body takes on a more expansive posture for as little as two minutes stimulates higher levels of positive hormones and suppresses the release of stress hormones. The two high-powers poses they employed in the study included the palm down posture done by placing the fingertips down on a table while standing or the feet crossed propped up on the table with hands hooded behind the head. The low-power poses included hands cupped together in the fig leaf position placed over the midsection while seated or the arms in a self-embrace while standing ankles locked tightly together.

The study looked at forty-two participants who were randomly assigned high or low power pose. Each participant held two poses for one minute each. Following this, the subjects were assessed for risk tolerance with a gambling exercise. The subjects were either permitted to claim the $2 which was offered to them risk free or gamble on a 50/50 chance of doubling the money to $4 or lose it all. Approximately 17 minutes following the posing exercise, a saliva sample was taken to measure levels of testosterone and cortisol. This was compared to a sample recovered prior to the exercise. Participants were also asked to indicate how “powerful” and “in charge” they felt on a scale from 1 to 4.

Amy Cuddy Testosterone Change

Amy Cuddy Cortisol ChangeThe results showed that high-power poses increased testosterone significantly. In fact, testosterone was boosted from pre-pose by about 20 percent and cortisol decreased by about 25 percent. Conversely, those in low-power poses had a 10 percent decrease in testosterone and a 15 percent increase in cortisol. High-power poses were also more likely than low power-posers to focus on rewards. About 86 percent took the gambling risk, whereas only about 14 percent were risk adverse. Among the low-power posers only 60 percent took the gambling risk.

Here are six main high-power postures you should incorporate into your repertoire:

1) Hooding: Place both hands behind your head.
2) Arms Akimbo: Place both palms of your hands on your hips.
3) Expansive Movements: Keep your legs at least shoulder width apart with your shoulders back hands out of your pockets.
4) Chest Puffing: Puff out your chest while keeping your chin and eyes up and alert.
5) Thumbing: Keep your thumbs up and visible.
6) Finger Steepling: Steeple your fingers by placing them fingers together.

And now six main low-power postures you should probably avoid:

1) Shrugging Shoulders: Pulling the shoulders up especially unevenly from the left to the right side of the body.
2) Tucking The Chin: Pulling the chin down, lowering the head and averting the eyes.
3) Reducing Your Profile: Pulling the arms and legs in close to the body or tucking the crossed legs under the chair cross at the ankles to take on a smaller profile.
4) Fetal Position: Hunching over and lowering the torso toward the ground or hugging the knees against the chest.
5) Self Hugging: Wrapping the arms around the self and clasping the opposite shoulder or holding the wrist of the opposite hand.
6) Neck Touching: Moving the hand to the suprasternal notch near the collar bone and holding it there, or massaging the skin just above the Adam’s apple.

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Amy Cuddy: Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are

Game Changer: Amy Cuddy, Power Poser


Dana R. Carney; Amy J.C. Cuddy; Andy J. Yap. Power Posing: Brief Nonverbal Displays Affect Neuroendocrine Levels and Risk Tolerance. Psychological Science, 2010; 21 (10): 1363-1368.

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