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A new study investigates the impact of power posing - the holding of wide and expansive postures - on self-reported feelings of power and the subsequent effect on paranoia.

Split image with the person standing in a power pose on the left and a neutral pose on the right.

Doctoral Student, Poppy Brown, discusses her recent paper, which is based on a double-blind randomised controlled study comparing power posing to neutral posing in advance of entering neutral social situations in virtual reality. One hundred people with current paranoia, and 50 without paranoia participated. Here's what she found out...

Why DID you do a study on power posing?

Power posing has been included in self-confidence interventions for paranoia, however, its effects have never actually been tested, a gap which I aimed to fill. 

Power posing is a controversial topic, with many of the original research findings having been discredited. For example, it is no longer believed that holding power poses can cause hormonal changes in the body. What has been more consistently shown, is that power posing can increase self-reported feelings of power. Individuals with paranoia often feel inferior to other people, with their feelings of vulnerability growing on these kinds of negative self-beliefs. Any intervention that can increase positive self-belief, including feelings of power and high social-rank, is likely to be beneficial for helping these individuals tackle challenging situations.

Were you surprised by the findings?

In those reporting current paranoia there were no significant group (power vs neutral posing) differences in feelings of power or paranoia at the end of the study. Conversely, in those without paranoia, there was a small significant group difference in feelings of power, with those who power posed reporting slightly higher levels of power than those who posed neutrally.

To check whether the different findings across the two participant groups was explained by the presence or absence of paranoia I ran a moderation analysis. I wondered whether, for example, power posing didn’t work for people with paranoia because it made them feel more exposed and vulnerable, rather than powerful. However, paranoia at baseline did not moderate the effects of the intervention on feelings of power. When combining both participant groups, there was an overall significant effect of power posing on feelings of power, though very small. 

what do these results Tell US?

It seems that power posing can have a very small effect on feelings of power, although because the effect is so small a study does need to be highly powered to detect it. What is interesting is that the group differences arose as much from a decrease in feelings of power in the control (neutral pose) group, as an increase in power in the power posing group. Past research reporting larger effects of power posing on feelings of power has always compared power posing to contractive posing (holding small and constricted poses). It seems possible, therefore, that past studies have actually been finding a negative effect of contractive poses, rather than a positive effect of power posing. Either way, power posing had no significant effects on reducing paranoia, thus is unlikely to be the most helpful therapeutic intervention to pursue.

 

Read the full paper, Power posing for paranoia: A double-blind randomised controlled experimental test using virtual reality.

 

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