The Daily Pennsylvanian is a student-run nonprofit.

Please support us by disabling your ad blocker on our site.

Credit: Cindy Chen

"Power poses" — superhero-like stances that supposedly make us feel motivated — have been all over the news. However, fourth-year psychology Ph.D student Kristopher Smith, along with psychology professor in the School of Arts and Sciences Coren Apicella, conducted a study that refutes those recent findings.

Smith sat down with The Daily Pennsylvanian to discuss the study and why it was of importance to him. The interview has been edited for brevity.

Daily Pennsylvanian: What made you want to do the study?

Kristopher Smith: Power poses have gotten a lot of attention lately. It’s an important finding if it turns out to be true, and there’s already skepticism for the results.

DP: Your experiment sought to replicate other recent work. Can you explain that?

KS: Correct. Ours was a conceptual replication, which means that we were trying to get at the same effect as a previous study with a somewhat different method.

DP: Walk me through the study.

KS: Participants came in and we took a baseline saliva sample to analyze their hormones before they competed in one-on-one tug-of-war. One participant was declared the winner, the other the loser. They then were randomly assigned to hold a high-power, low-power or neutral pose. We took a second saliva sample and then measured their feelings of power.

DP: What were you looking for, exactly?

KS: We were first looking for how the effect of winning the competition affects hormone levels and feelings of power. We know that winning increases testosterone levels. We were looking at if the effects of power poses depended on whether a participant had won or lost.

DP: And you found that the power poses didn’t work?

KS: Mostly. The majority of effects weren’t significant but we did find one that we think is a false positive. For winners, the power poses had the typical effect: winners who hold a high power pose increased in testosterone and those who held a low power pose decreased in testosterone. Losers, however, decreased in testosterone when they held a low power pose and increased in testosterone when they held a high power pose. In other words, the effects for testosterone were opposite for those who had lost the competition.

DP: Any clue as to why that is?

KS: We’d suspect that this won’t replicate. But, if it were true, we’d think this is testosterone’s way of saying: “You’re not actually a dominant individual; maybe you should back down.”

DP: Changing the subject a bit — how did you come across this research position?

KS: Typically in psychology, professors and graduate students work together to develop experiments, which is what Dr. Apicella and I did. Dr. Apicella — one of my advisors — came to me with this project in my first year of grad school. She and I developed the project together. It took about a year to develop the experiment itself, and it took about a year and half to collect the data.

DP: What was your favorite part of this research?

KS: It’s always the data analysis. You put all this effort into this project — you develop it; you’ve collected the data, and this one took particularly long, so when you finally get to analyze the data you know you’re on the verge of finally discovering something new.