Harvard Business School professor Amy Cuddy saw her now husband for the first time on Facebook.
She noticed his photo, she said in a recent talk at the 92Y in New York City, because he was positioned “in the most extreme ‘power pose’ imaginable.”
“Power pose” is a term that Cuddy coined in her 2012 TED Talk, and it describes an expansive posture that can make you feel more powerful and confident.
Cuddy said that her first thought on seeing her husband that way was, “What a jerk!” And second: “He must have a good sense of humor.”
That Cuddy was drawn to her husband because of his body language isn’t as unusual as it sounds. Research suggests that we’re more attracted to people in expansive – as opposed to contracted – postures, even if we don’t consciously realize it.
A 2016 study tested this phenomenon in two settings: speed dating and online dating.
In the speed-dating experiment, experimenters filmed 144 speed dates, and reviewed them looking specifically at whether people sat still or waved their hands and arms a lot. They asked each person to indicate how attractive they found their partner and whether they’d like to see their partner again.
Sure enough, people who took up a lot of space with their bodies were rated more attractive. What’s more, people who displayed open body language were rated higher on dominance, suggesting that postural expansiveness is attractive because it conveys a sense of power.
But the researchers wanted to know if open body language directly causes you to seem more attractive.
In a second experiment, they created profiles on a GPS-based dating app for three men and three women.
In one set of profiles, the men and women were pictured in contractive positions – for example, by crossing their arms or hunching their shoulders.
In the other set of profiles, the same men and women were pictured in expansive positions, like holding their arms upward in a “V” or reaching out to grab something.
Results showed that people in expansive postures were selected more often than those in contractive postures. This effect was slightly larger for women selecting men.
In other words, it would seem as though open body language does, in fact, cause people, especially men, to seem more attractive.
In a follow-up experiment, the researchers had another group of people rate the profile photos on openness and dominance. As it turns out, when people were rated high on openness, they were likely to be rated high on dominance, too.
The researchers say that looking dominant suggests that you have resources to spare, and openness may suggest that you’re willing to share them.
For online daters, the takeaway is simple. Instead of posting a photo where you’re curled up or slouching, consider using one where you’re taking up space.