Legs apart, chest out and hands on hips, the ‘superhero’ stance is an example of what psychologists refer to as an ‘open posture‘. Open postures are supposed to convey power, confidence and authority by making you look bigger. But researchers from Columbia University, New York, were interested to see if there is a physiological effect on the human body caused by open postures.
The researchers didn’t look at the traditional superhero stance, thinking that the participants in the study would be able to guess the intentions of the experiment. Instead they focussed on other open postures, asking the participants to hold each pose for two minutes, and then to proceed onto a gambling task. The participants were given the option of gambling $2 or keeping the money, to see if standing in an open pose increased risky behaviour.
Saliva samples were taken before the study and afterwards to see if there was a change in testosterone and cortisol hormone levels. Testosterone is associated with the anticipation of competition, increasing before an individual competes and if they win, and decreasing if they lose. It makes a very simple way to monitor levels of confidence. Cortisol on the other hand is associated with stress and stress related illnesses like heart disease.
For both the gambling test and tests of hormone levels, the open pose produced high-power, confident responses from the participants, compared to the closed pose. Participants stood or sat in the closed poses were only 60 per cent likely to gamble, compared to 86 per cent of open posed participants. Both testosterone and cortisol levels decreased or increased correspondingly with the two poses, and open posed participants were more likely to report feelings of power.
This study, although not looking at superhero postures, showed that standing in high power positions for as little as two minutes was sufficient to produce physiological responses associated with power, authority and confidence.
Image: Brian Dewey/ Flickr