In 2010, three researchers published a study whose findings exploded onto the pop psychology mainstream.
Authored by Dana Carney and Andy Yap, then of Columbia University, as well as Amy Cuddy of Harvard, the study suggested that standing like Wonder Woman for two minutes could raise testosterone levels and reduce stress hormone levels temporarily.
Thus, the iconic “power pose” was born.
People all over the world began using the technique to gain confidence before an interview, meeting, first date, or sporting event. Cuddy gave a TED talk on power posing in 2012 that has been viewed 46 million times, and she’s built a lucrative business based partly on the research that power posing works.
But as Jesse Singal reports for Science of Us, the original trio of researchers is now down to two. Dana Carney, who today serves as a professor at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, recently published a report renouncing the effects of power posing.
As early as the second paragraph, she writes, “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.“
Carney isn’t the only one in the academic community who’s come to doubt Cuddy’s power poses. In 2015, researchers conducted a study involving 200 people (98 women, 102 men), in which they observed no changes to power posers’ hormone levels. The 2010 findings couldn’t be replicated.
Writing for Slate earlier this year, two statistics professors from Columbia also found the power posing research to be shaky at best.
Under the headline “Amy Cuddy’s ‘Power Pose’ Research Is the Latest Example of Scientific Overreach,” Andrew Gelman and Kaiser Fung argued that the 2010 authors more or less fudged the numbers to provide a more tantalizing result. The method is called “p-hacking,” and basically involves performing many analyses and cherry-picking the data that fit your hypothesis.
“The original power-pose study reported an impressively large effect, but that’s what happens with published results from small, noisy studies,” Gelman and Fung wrote. “Variation is high, so anything that does appear to be statistically significant (the usual requirement for publication) will necessarily be large, even if it represents nothing but chance fluctuation.”
Carney’s change of heart comes from the same place. Under a section in the report called “Here are some facts,” she lists (among eight other bullet points) that “the sample size is tiny,” the data are “flimsy,” and the effects are “small and barely there in many cases.”
Still, in the six years since the research was published, Cuddy has stood by the research’s findings. Last December she published “Presence,” a book that expands on the power posing research to help people realize the many ways their body language affects their thoughts and behaviors.
But people in the industry of body language coaching may not be as loyal to the research.
Vanessa Van Edwards, who runs the company Science of People, tells Business Insider via email that her team is “anxiously waiting for someone (hopefully Amy Cuddy) to replicate her initial results.” Until that happens, however, Van Edwards says Science of People has been relying less on power posing and more on the “pride” body language of athletes.
Blake Eastman, founder and head instructor of The Nonverbal Group, says many of the people in his industry don’t rely on power posing to help people build confidence. Though there may be published evidence that suggests it works, Eastman argues the prescription is overly specific.
“I haven’t told anybody to power pose, per se, but I have told them to move and do certain things before you’re about to go into a presentation as a way to psych yourself up,” he says.
Both he and Van Edwards acknowledge, however, that even if power posing stands on shaky footing, placebo effects are often quite powerful. Even if Cuddy knew the results were spurious, Eastman says, she isn’t trying to scam anyone. She’s trying to help people live fuller, richer lives.
“Anecdotally, many of our readers say that power posing increases confidence,” Van Edwards says. “But we are not standing by that research until it is replicated.”
Cuddy was not immediately available to comment.