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Stop Slouching!

You know that your mood and your thoughts affect your posture. Now we’ve learned that changing your posture, even as briefly as a minute or two, can change your mood and your thinking in astonishing ways. And this change can be measured.

Harvard's Amy Cuddy
Harvard's Amy Cuddy

Researchers have reported remarkable changes in the hormone levels of 42 males and females when researchers placed those men and women in different poses for a bare minute per pose. Harvard’s Amy Cuddy, along with Dana R. Carney and Andy J. Yap (both of Columbia), first measured the hormone levels of their research subjects, then placed them  in two high-power or low-power poses for a minute per pose, then re-measured their hormone levels 17 minutes later. (Leaning back in your swivel chair with your feet on your desk, would be a high-power pose.  Sitting in a low chair with your  hands folded in your lap would be low-power.) A brief two minutes in high-power stances caused testosterone to rise; two minutes in low-power posture caused testosterone to decrease and cortisol, associated with stress, to rise.

Are you still slouching? Remember, this goes for women, too.  We bet Amy Cuddy doesn’t slouch.

The researchers also offered the men and women an opportunity to roll a die in order to double a two-dollar stake. Those who had been in high-power poses were more likely to gamble, in other words to take risks, a trait associated with dominant people. Indeed, the research subjects who had been placed in high-power stances reported feeling more powerful. (This didn’t work for us when we tried it, but  maybe that just says something about us.)

It’s been known for some time that expansive high-power postures that take up more space correlate with testosterone and cortisol levels in primates of both sexes. (And, yes, even you deep thinkers are primates when it comes to this.) The high-power individuals have higher levels of testosterone; the low-power people with their contractive postures, taking up less space, have lower testosterone levels and higher cortisol, meaning they are more subject to stress and more likely to succumb to diseases. And up until now it had been believed that primates who were at the top of the pack were there because they had been born with the right hormones for the job. Now it appears that getting into the high position, through whatever means, brings about the associated levels of testosterone and cortisol.

The research by Amy Cuddy, Dana Carney and Andy Yap, “Power Posing: Brief Nonverbal Displays Affect Neuroendocrine Levels and Risk Tolerance,” was published in the influential journal Psychological Science. That was about a year ago. We’re slow readers and never got to it.  But we did get to the  very interesting profile of Assistant Professor Amy Cuddy, with an informative review of other research she’s done,  and that’s accessible online at  Harvard Magazine.  The photograph of Amy Cuddy was taken from the magazine’s cover story; we think her posture is neither high-power nor low-power, but  just friendly.

More Notes

The World Happiness Report, released by the United Nations, ranks countries on six key variables that support well-being: income, freedom, trust, healthy life expectancy, social support and generosity. This year, Finland is first, followed by Norway, Denmark, Iceland and Switzerland, followed by Netherlands, Canada,New Zealand, Sweden, Australia. The United States, which has never been in the top ten, silpped down four places from last year and is now 18th. President Trump may make American Great Again, but apparently not happier.