Amy Cuddy v. the Undercover Economist; the gloves are off

We all know that 37% of statistics are wrong, right? Having blogged the value of Amy Cuddy’s power poses earlier in the year, it behoves me to update on Tim Harford’s FT piece about how Cuddy’s work is a brilliant example of the misuse of statistics. In summary, Harford says that a larger and later study of power posing – which Cuddy and her colleagues argue can increase testosterone and reduce cortisol – shows no such thing. Where Cuddy tested 42 subjects, later researchers led by Eva Ranehill found that the power poses seemed to make no difference worth mentioning. In a study of 200 subjects, high-power poses were correlated with slightly lower testosterone and slightly higher cortisol — the opposite of what might be expected, but tiny and statistically indistinguishable from chance.Read the full article here.

I’ve been advocating the value of power posing with women I coach for the past year. And I know for a fact that there are women around the world taking a few minutes in the loo to pose like Superwoman before they deliver their big presentation. Harford has, as always, a point. But this is also a good case of where data don’t show the full picture. Power posing may or may not reduce cortisol. Most of the people I coach are too busy thinking about their key messages, and whether their fake tan has started to rub off the backs of their knees, to take the saliva swab necessary to find out. But there’s a reason why a study of only 42 subjects inspired 34 million TED views. It’s because the thinking behind Cuddy’s work still holds good. The research may be flawed, but common sense, coupled with a brief look at animal behaviour, suggests the merits of the approach. High status animals prowl the savannah, confident that lower status pack members will take care of them. Lower status animals cower, shrink, make themselves small. Power posing is fun – don’t take it too seriously. It’s something you can do to build up your confidence. And it’s a reminder that breathing deep, being grounded, inhabiting your space, and feeling at home in your body can all add up to being – properly – present.