Steve Sailer: Power Posing and the Social Science Replication Crisis

Steve Sailer writes:

Statistics professor Andrew Gelman and Kaiser Fung write in Slate:

The Power of the “Power Pose”

Amy Cuddy’s famous finding is the latest example of scientific overreach.

By Andrew Gelman and Kaiser Fung

As practicing statisticians who work in social science, we have a dark secret to reveal: Some of the most glamorous, popular claims in the field are nothing but tabloid fodder. The weakest work with the boldest claims often attracts the most publicity, helped by promotion from newspapers, television, websites, and best-selling books. And members of the educated public typically only get one side of the story.

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.”

In the future, the human race will be ruled by women who look like Phoebe on Friends.

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.

But when somebody attempted to replicate Cuddy’s popular study using a more sufficient sample size than Cuddy’s 42, they instead got a tiny negative effect size.


* If you want to understand posture and power, watch a video of Vladimir Putin talking to any other world leader (virtually all of whom are taller than him). He only moves his eyes when speaking to them.

* The photos of Putin and DiCaprio having a stare-off are a pretty memorable.

* How seriously are we supposed to take Amy Cuddy as a social scientist when her photo features a cleavage revealing front? It’s clearly a posed shot, so she had the option to go with something less attention whoring.

* Someone should do a study about above average looking women and their ability to fool the world with dubious scientific claims. Cuddy and Elizabeth Holmes of Theranos etc.

* We know that there is a strong mind-body connection, so feeling more dominant by making yourself look more dominant shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand. We also know that placebo effects are real and powerful.

Here are three classic experiments in autosuggestion that you can try on yourself. Two are quick; one takes a while:

One, imagine that you have a peeled lemon in your hand. Try to see it. Feel the weight. Smell it. Now remove a section. Take it to your mouth. Bite down on the lemon.

Did your mouth just water?

Two, the next time you have an ache or hurt, rub the affected body part lightly but quickly while saying or whispering over and over to yourself, so fast that it’s a slur, “Ca passe” (Pronounced “sah pass.”)

Did the pain become less or go away?

Three, and this one takes some time, say to yourself every day, several times before falling asleep, and whenever else the urge strikes, “Every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better.” It sounds hokey, but try it for at least a month.

One that I came up on my own and have been using for about the last six months is every time I have the urge to say, “Life sucks” I say, “Life is good!” instead. It seems to be helping.

* As far as persuasion goes, Angela Merkel seems to have been extraordinarily effective. Yet I’d wager she’s never been in danger of winning the face of Revlon contract.

Her whole approach and demeanour is more redolent of a hospital matron – the senior nurse – from 1950s England. Assertive body language is a big part of the cluster that makes that effective. It fires off Über matriarch response mental sub-routines, especially in men.

Whereas Amy Cuddy seems mainly to be advertising her tits, which, to be fair to her, are appetisingly well presented and likely to fire off a ‘I’d like to play with those’ mental response sub-routines, at least in normal men. If I click on her TED talk video, which I haven’t just yet, it would be motivated more by lasciviousness than interest in her message.

I suspect I’m not alone.

* “Every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better.”

The French psychologist Émile Coué came up with this phrase as a form of curative therapy and it was quite well known 90 years ago.

One of the funniest short stories in the English language, P.G. Wodehouse’s “Mr. Potter Takes a Rest Cure” begins with the title character trying to soothe his nerves on a rest cure trip to the English countryside, murmuring the phrase repeatedly. Predictably for a Wodehouse story, total hilarity and a nervous breakdown reign by the end of the story.

* The attractive woman power pose demonstrated by an attractive woman. Leading with what she feels are her best physical attributes, teeth and tits. Like I’m not supposed to notice. I’m certain that shit is working with the zit-covered cucumbers she works with. I’d hit it. I see a future for her at Fox News.

* I think this power posing sounds like it comes from NLP (neuro-linguistic programming). I think that power posing works more for the poser (actor) in creating a state of mind which then influences others. Former FBI agent, Jack Shafer, has a whole book on these body language techniques: The Like Switch: An Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Influencing, Attracting, and Winning People Over. Many self-help and motivational writers have been saying this kind of stuff for over a century, from Orison Swett Marden to Tony Robbins. Robbins is especially big on this kind of stuff like power posing. But it goes back further than this. Aristotle said, “Men acquire a particular quality by constantly acting in a particular way.” Donald Trump, in his book Think Like a Champion: An Informal Education In Business and Life, says, “A great portion of life and business involves acting. Life is a performance art, no matter what field you are in. I’ve come to understand that fact over the years, and it’s a helpful thing to realize.”

* I noticed back in the 1990s that my shyness was less of a problem if I were chewing gum: my facial muscles were already in motion, so I was much quicker with a quip or a smile, making me much more outgoing. On the other hand, chewing gum is kind of gross, so I don’t do it anymore.

* Yeah, there are so many sophisticated rational people out there who dismiss this self-help and motivational stuff as total BS. What Cuddy is saying sets off my BS detector. Meanwhile, I always read articles about how the hyper-successful guys buy into this BS and swear by it. Multi-billionaires like Marc Benioff, Paul Tudor Jones, and Ray Dalio are Tony Robbins devotees (Fortune: Tony Robbins, The CEO Whisperer). Entertainment mogul (and professional sports teams co-owner– LA Dodgers, Golden State Warriors), Peter Gruber, has been a Robbins devotee for over 30 years and swears by him. Donald Trump swears by Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking. Larry Ellison read and was strongly influenced by Think and Grow Rich as a kid.

* “Fake it til you make it” is par for the course. One wonders if power posing fits in that category, that she faked the results until enough people believed them, when she made it.

I have tested the idea on a small scale. It definitely works, both with students and in my own life. Whether that is due to a rise in testosterone or is simply the placebo effect (which is probably the leading source of cure in medicine: you get better because you believe the physician will help you get better. The book here is The Biology of Belief, in which a knee surgeon discovers that, of three groups of patients, there is no statistically significant difference in how the patients who received placebo surgery feel from patients who received the major and minor surgery [he was testing to prove the latter was equally effective, and instead discovered something else]) matters little to whether it is effective.

One does not walk around power posing, though. One does so before an interview, for example, to psych oneself up for the meeting.

* I once heard Terry Gross interview Michael Caine on “Fresh Air”. It was interesting as he actually talked about the craft of acting – how to convey things through body language. He said that the best way to portray powerful men was to not move or gesture much, as powerful men make other people do the moving. He also had observed that the best way to be menacing was to stare unblinking.

* If power posing didn’t work, they wouldn’t teach it to cops and soldiers during training. The problem is, most everyday interactions don’t need that level of aggression. CEOs who are successful aren’t necessarily power-posers, they’re just guys with more energy, relentlessness, enthusiasm, and, most importantly, follow-throughness. The ability to get things done creates an atmosphere in which other people just hand you lots of authority because they don’t want all that responsibility, they don’t want to do all that work, and they don’t care to take any of the blame if things go wrong.

It takes at least two people to create a leader. One who chooses to be one, but another who chooses not to be.

* I don’t know about power-poses, but that decollete Amy Cuddly sports definitely works. In some ways the world is a very simple place.

* Tony Robbins is 6’7″ or more, with a huge head and appendages. Power posing works well for him.
It only works for little people (like Putin) if they already have power.
People sense whether you’re projecting actual power, or just posing.

* I took a class in my MBA program entitled “Negotiate with Power.” The long-time, excellent 76-year old professor advised that, in business, a reasonably competent good-looking woman is dangerous. And by dangerous, he meant she’s more likely to prevail in all business situations.

* I’ve noticed that women who chew gum are more promiscuous than women that don’t.

* The fascinating thing about the power pose is how it may start a positive feedback mechanism. While one may not initially feel powerful through the pose, if the substrate to your catalyst acts as though you are powerful this may enhance your confidence and cause you to act more dominant.

In my experience I think this only applies to people who want to be the submissive or those who are not looking to challenge you. Essentially, you can lord over an army of betas or female equivalents but against a true competitor or someone who understands the “game” it is an easily penetrated veneer.

At the very least, it is worth a try. The benefits can be high and the risks are low. Of course, actually being interesting and having a good personality is challenging. This could be a good mechanism for the dull and boring.

* Amy Cuddy and Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer both have backgrounds in ballet. Ballerinas probably always have excellent posture.

* Right, it’s the COMBINATION that counts. Arnold has presence but also personality, humor(often self-parodying as well as deprecating of others), and wit.
He wasn’t just some muscle guy lug.

Power pose will work if you have something to back it up with.
But without it, it will actually do more harm.

Suppose you have razor-sharp wit and can verbally duel with anyone.
So, if you go for power-pose, the confidence suits the ability.
But if you aren’t too bright, the power-pose will only make you look more ridiculous cuz you’re pose will be seen for what it is: hollow.

This is why a dork acting tough actually makes him seem weaker. His inability to back up his style with substance accentuates his weakness.

So, power pose has to be commensurate with actual ability.

* Amy proves what I’ve been saying for decades – it’s all about the hot girls. It’s an unintended consequence of the feminist deal struck in the 1970′s to put more women women on talk shows and news shows.

Men will watch hot girls on TV endlessly without caring what they are saying. Women watch hot girls on TV because they are fooled into thinking that this is a concession to women and feminism, and of course women are always interested in looking critically at each other, what they are wearing, etc. Therefore hot girls please everyone.

I’m pretty sure it works like this: 1 in 200 women are photogenic enough for local TV and 1 in 50 has a 120+ IQ so they won’t make fools of themselves while talking. Ergo, 1 in 10,000 women are suitable for TV. That’s who we get on TV. Never mind that there might be plain looking women who have actual knowledge or expertise, and of course there is no point in mentioning men who are endlessly more experienced etc.

Because it’s all about the hot girls!

* I know someone who works with pilots in aviation pilot psychology. He once told me that female computer voices are used in navigation because they get male pilot attention, and they get it quickly.

* Zach Braff is the worst. There have been many talented Jewish comedy-dramatists, but Braff must have made it in the business through connections. This guy is unfunny, repulsive, and untalented. How is he able to keep making movies? Garden State was awful. This is unbearable:

Zemeckis can certainly make a movie. He’s a pro’s pro. But his crowd-pleasing antics can go too far, as in FORREST GUMP, a vomit bag movie. THE WALK is better, but it too is a push-button affair. Zemeckis does a lot of neat things, but everything is meant to put a smile on your face. The final walk is amazingly presented but more as visual effect — or entirely as visual effect — than drama. All movies are magic, but we know THE WALK is all CGI, so that takes away some of the wonder. Still, pretty amazing. But the phony French accents by Levitt and others are really grating.

There are intelligent movies and then there are movies that make you feel intelligent. MARTIAN is such a movie. The audience can congratulate itself that it’s not just watching spaceship battles and explosions but the methodology of survival with grounding in real science. It’s like science fiction as homework. While that may flatter the geeks and pseudo-smart, most people are gonna tune out. So, the other half of MARTIAN is essentially frat-boy-out-of-funds-trying-to-survive-on-macaroni-and-beer-for-a-month movie: accessible. It offers the fun stuff along with the ‘serious’ stuff. It works, but it’s so contrived and calculated. Also, because Damon’s main purpose is to lighten things up since too-much-science-stuff may grow dreary, his character has no gravitas. He is just a dude. Also, with him talking to the camera half the time, it’s appealing to the millennial generation that yammers into webcams endlessly and is into non-stop texting and selfies.

In a crucial way, THE MARTIAN doesn’t get what science fiction is about. Science Fiction is not really about science or scientific stuff. Good sci-fi has some grounding in science and technology, but they are really used as launch pads for philosophical and spiritual quest. Science Fiction is supposed to be more like Scientology.
It is futurism as myth. It is a strange combination of rationality and fantasism. Science fiction foresees a future transformed by science and technology, but the character of this science/technology must be fantastical beyond what today’s science/technology is capable of. Or, in cases where the science and technology are within the realm of the possible, the emphasis must be on truths that cannot be explained by reason or solved by science. It can be cosmic, as in 2001, or psychological, as in A.I.

Ultimately, what makes a movie like 2001 so powerful isn’t the technology but sense of truth beyond technology and the man’s mastery of the world. Science and technology do not fully explain or solve the key question in A.I., TRON LEGACY, or BLADE RUNNER.
In contrast, THE MARTIAN offers no truth beyond hard science(or what appears as hard science). Even GRAVITY went further because of the metaphoric use of space and gravity as the emotional state of the astronautess. In THE MARTIAN, what you see is what you get, and that’s it. It’s more like science fact-ion.

* A general pattern with Slate is that it has been getting girlier over time because the female audience is usually more desirable to advertisers than the male audience. It now has a woman editor. It’s not bad, but it’s focused more on female concerns now than when it had a male editor, and so it’s less interesting to my male brain.

* Nothing says Serious Scientist to me like a blond with a great smile and nice tits.

* Whenever anything bad is happening in a movie, just say “OMG where is the hot girls who will save the day?” And then she appears! She might be an incredibly cute nerdy girl who can program anything instantly, or an amazingly hot authority figure girl who just tells the problem to go away – are you starting to get it?

Now that women are the equals of men in every way, even in the armed forces, you can look forward to many, many more instances in which male characters need to be rescued – always by hot girls!

It’s all about the hot girls. Men can basically take the rest of this millennium off, I guess, except for the men who make sure that everything works – for the hot girls!

* Attractive women are, relatively speaking, easy-going and nice people. People have been nice to them all their lives, so they’re less likely to have developed the resentments that produce angry feminists and leftists.

When a nice person develops leftist sympathies, it comes from a mistaken but remediable belief that the leftist program is about being nice to people.

The dangerous, irremediable, kind of leftist is the kind who’s attracted to it because he/she looks to politics as a way to hammer the people he/she hates — the attractive people who wouldn’t date them in high school, the successful people who have fewer advanced degrees.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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