Six years ago, researchers at Columbia and Harvard quickly gained recognition in the psychological science community with research they published suggesting that power poses—particular body stances and positioning held for limited periods of time—could lend themselves to increased feelings of power and tolerance for risk.
The 2010 report, “Power Posing: Brief Nonverbal Displays Affect Neuroendocrine Levels and Risk Tolerance,” was co-authored by Dana Carney and Andy Yap, then at Columbia, and Amy Cuddy (pictured above, right) at Harvard Business School. The three wrote, “results of this study confirmed our prediction that posing in high-power nonverbal displays (as opposed to low-power nonverbal displays) would cause neuroendocrine and behavioral changes for both male and female participants: High-power posers experienced elevations in testosterone, decreases in cortisol, and increased feelings of power and tolerance for risk; low-power posers exhibited the opposite pattern.”
HBS social psychologist Cuddy would go on to a degree of stardom thanks in part to her TED Talk on the subject. Since its debut, Cuddy’s discussion has become the second-most popular TED Talk of all time.
But today, one of her fellow researchers, Dana Carney, now an associate professor at Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, is backing down from the study, calling into question the science behind the conclusions. In a recent post on her website titled “My Position On ‘Power Poses,’” Carney states, “As evidence has come in over these past two-plus years, my views have updated to reflect the evidence. As such, I do not believe that ‘power pose’ effects are real.”
Carney’s reversal came after a replicate study attempted but failed to achieve the same results that Cuddy, Carney and Yap found before. Several months ago Slate journalists Andrew Gelman and Kaiser Fung also revealed some more serious holes in the trio’s work, which included a further explanation of why the replicate study failed courtesy of researchers Joe Simmons and Uri Simonsohn.
Simmons and Simonsohn concluded, “at this point the evidence for the basic effect seems too fragile to search for moderators or to advocate for people to engage in power posing to better their lives.”
Carney further explains her newfound position on her website, writing, “I do not study the embodied effects of power poses,” and “I do not teach power poses in my classes anymore.” Her full explanation can be read here. Cuddy, in response to the Slate article referenced above, replied: “I respectfully disagree with the interpretations and conclusions of Simonsohn et al., but I’m considering these issues very carefully and look forward to further progress on this important topic.” Yap, who has since moved on from Columbia to INSEAD, where he is an assistant professor of organizational behavior, had not replied to requests for comment as of this printing, but we will update accordingly if and when he does.