Amy Cuddy’s famous finding is the latest example of scientific overreach.
Consider the case of Amy Cuddy. The Harvard Business School social psychologist is famous for a TED talk, which is among the most popular of all time, and now a book promoting the idea that “a person can, by assuming two simple one-minute poses, embody power and instantly become more powerful.” The so-called “power pose” is characterized by “open, expansive postures”—Slate’s Katy Waldman described it as akin to “a cobra rearing and spreading its hood to the sun, or Wonder Woman with her legs apart and her hands on her hips.” In a published paper from 2010, Cuddy and her collaborators Dana Carney and Andy Yap report that such posing can change your life and your hormone levels. They report that the “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.”
Cuddy’s work on power posing has been covered in the press for years, including in Waldman’s tongue-in-cheek article in Slate. Most of the time, that coverage is glowing. Here’s a recent New York Times review of Cuddy’s new book, Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges: “While Cuddy’s research seems to back up her claims about the effects of power posing, even more convincing are the personal stories sent to the author by some of the 28 million people who have viewed her TED talk. … Unlike so many similar books aimed at ushering us to our best lives, Presence feels at once concrete and inspiring, simple but ambitious—above all, truly powerful.” And here’s a CBS News report from last month: “Believe it or not, her studies show that if you stand like a superhero privately before going into a stressful situation, there will actually be hormonal changes in your body chemistry that cause you to be more confident and in-command. … [M]ake no mistake, Cuddy’s work is grounded in science.”
But the story of power posing is not so simple. An outside team led by Eva Ranehill attempted to replicate the original Carney, Cuddy, and Yap study using a sample population five times larger than the original group. In a paper published in 2015, the Ranehill team reported that they found no effect. More.
How about this: No replication, no science.
Surely some change is afoot when even smart-ass digitals like Slate realize that something is wrong with what gets classed as “science.”
Oh wait, is that the alarm clock ringing? Dam.
Anyway, yer humble news hack remembers a high school teacher, an older doctor of classics, about 4 ft tall, whose presence and learning were so awesome that students stood up when she entered the room. It was never reported that she even knew of, let alone would care to try, any “power pose” at all.
Also, a humble priest who could command a mob to silence by raising his hand. And a man who could do the same with a peculiar pitch of his voice, when dealing with horses.
Much depends on what counts as power in a given society.
See also: Replication as key science reform
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