October 25, 2011

The Power of 'Power Posing'


Next-generation space suits, the collapse of Iceland's banking system, and changing perceptions among Africans about their place in the world were among the dizzying array of ideas that charity leaders and others gathered in the small town of Camden, Me., to discuss—all as part of an effort to stimulate new thinking about social change.

PopTech, the New York nonprofit that organizes the annual conference, hopes that exposing participants to work outside their areas of expertise will lead to interdisciplinary collaboration and spark new approaches to fixing social problems.

With strains of the "Wonder Woman" theme song opening her talk, Amy J.C. Cuddy, a social psychologist at Harvard Business School, discussed her research on body language and how it can change the way people feel about their status—something that could come in handy for the people nonprofits train to get jobs, and many other purposes.

She and a colleague found that holding "power poses"—open, expansive body postures that convey confidence and power (imagine a corporate titan with his feet propped on a desk or an Olympic runner raising her arms in victory)—for as little as two minutes changes people’s levels of testosterone and cortisol (hormones associated with leadership), increases their appetite for risk and helps them cope with stressful situations.

Watch Ms. Cuddy's conference presentation. What are the implications of her research for nonprofits? Social-service groups that help people seek employment could share her recommendations with clients who are preparing for job interviews.  Are there other potential applications?