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Good posture boosts self-esteem
by Matthew - Wednesday, 9 March 2011, 01:02 PM

Good posture boosts self-esteem

It’s long been thought that good posture earns respect. “Stand up straight!”, “Chest out!” “Shoulders back!” are the perennial cries of many a fussy parent and domineering sergeant major. Posture certainly matters.  Big is dominant in many species including humans.

Stand Up StraightHowever, the stand-up-straight brigade often make a another claim: that good posture affects the way we treat ourselves. To test this idea, Li Huang and Adam Galinsky, at Northwestern University in Illinois, compared the effect that posture has on self-esteem with another, more conventional ego-booster ... being told you have the qualities of a leader. In a paper recently published in Psychological Science the authors conclude that good posture not only affects how others see us, but has a positive impact on how we see ourselves.

The study was conducted with 77 undergraduate students.  Each subject began the experiment by filling out a questionnaire, ostensibly to assess their leadership capacity. Half were then given feedback forms which indicated that, on the basis of the questionnaires, they were to be assigned as managers in a forthcoming experiment. The other half were told they would be subordinates. While the participants waited for this feedback, they were asked to help with a marketing test on ergonomic chairs. This required them to sit in a computer chair in a specific posture for between three and five minutes. Half the participants sat in constricted postures, with their hands under their thighs, legs together or shoulders hunched. The other half sat in expansive postures with their legs spread wide or their arms reaching outward.

In fact, neither of these tests were quite what they seemed. Volunteers were told they would be managers or subordinates at random. The posture experiment had nothing to do with ergonomics. Both of these tests were designed to see what impact they had on the subject’s self-esteem. Once the posture test was over the participants received their new status and researchers measured their implicit sense of personal power’ using a specially designed word test.

Although previous studies have suggested that the title ‘manager’ or ‘leader’ is enough to produce a detectable increase in an individual’s sense of power, Dr Huang and Dr Galinsky found no difference in power scores between those who were told they would be managers and those told they would be subordinates. The posture experiment, however, did make a difference. Those who had sat in an expansive pose, regardless of whether they thought of themselves as managers or subordinates, scored an average of 3.44 on the power test. Those who had sat in constricted postures scored an average of 2.78.

Having established the principle, Dr Huang and Dr Galinsky went on to test the effect of posture on other power-related decisions: whether to speak first in a debate, whether to leave the site of a plane crash to find help and whether to join a movement to free a prisoner who was wrongfully locked up. In all three cases those who had sat in expansive postures chose the active option (to speak first, to search for help, to fight for justice) more often than those who had sat crouched.

The upshot, then, is that father (or the sergeant major) was right. Those who walk around with their heads held high not only get the respect of others; they seem also to respect themselves.

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