Stretch For Success: How Posture Can Improve Self-Esteem
Research reveals the positive power of power posing
Posted February 11, 2021
“Stand strong.” “Look like a winner.” How many of us have heard similar words of encouragement, only to wonder, how does that actually work? Research reveals how powerful posture impacts self-esteem, and the way you see yourself can impact the way you are perceived by others.
Sit Up and Stand Out
You may have heard that good posture is not only healthy physically but also helps you make a great first impression. Exuding both competence and confidence, by standing tall, you can make a powerful statement without saying a word. But there is more. According to research, power posing also improves the way you view yourself.
Most people engage in some level of self-analysis from time to time. We think through our strengths and weaknesses, review our positive traits and not-so-positive habits. Have you ever considered what you are doing and how you are sitting, lying, or standing when you go through this mental self-reflection? According to research, it might make a difference.
Pablo Briñol et al. examined the effects of body posture on self-evaluation.[i] Specifically, beginning on the concept of embodied attitudes, they investigated the way in which body posture has the potential to impact self-evaluations by affecting thought confidence. In their study, participants were asked to consider and write down what they would describe as their best or worse qualities—while positioned in one of two ways: either in a confident posture- sitting down puffing out their chest with their back erect, or in a doubtful posture — slouched forward with their back curved. Participants were then asked to complete a self-evaluation task.
Sure enough, Briñol et al. found that consistent with the self-validation hypothesis, the impact of thoughts, positive or negative, on self-related attitudes was significantly greater when participants wrote them down while sitting in the confident rather than the doubtful posture. The authors note that interestingly, the difference in posture did not impact the quantity or quality of thoughts, only the confidence with which they were held by participants.
Positive Self-Evaluation: Learning to Like What You See
When it comes to body image, most of us are our own worst critics. When other people see us, they rarely see the same person we see looking back in the mirror; and the difference can be dramatic. While it's true that some of us see ourselves in a more positive light physically than others do, most don’t. So the question becomes, how does our perceived physical appearance impact mental wellness? And does positioning matter?
Mart Miragall et al. (2018) examined posture in connection with literal self-reflection, by looking into a mirror.[ii] They recognized mirror exposure as one of the main components of eating disorder treatment, noting its impact on perceived body satisfaction. Regarding what body posture should be used for positive outcomes, they note that an expansive (as opposed to contractive) body posture has been linked with improved emotional and cognitive responses.
In their research, studying 68 women who expressed high levels of body dissatisfaction, Miragall et al. found that women in the expansive condition experienced higher positive emotions after mirror exposure. They further found that the improved positive emotions stemming from adopting an expansive posture prompted improvements in negative emotions, body image satisfaction, and body self-evaluation.
Positioned for a Positive View
Reflecting on these findings, literally and figuratively, not only is beauty in the eye of the beholder, but this is true even when the beholder is the beholden. And apparently, seeing is believing, especially when positioned for a positive view.
[i] Briñol, Pablo, Richard E. Petty, and Benjamin Wagner. 2009. “Body Posture Effects on Self-Evaluation: A Self-Validation Approach.” European Journal of Social Psychology 39 (6): 1053–64. doi:10.1002/ejsp.607.
[ii] Miragall, Marta, Ernestina Etchemendy, Ausiàs Cebolla, Víctor Rodríguez, Carlos Medrano, and Rosa María Baños. 2018. “Expand Your Body When You Look at Yourself: The Role of the Posture in a Mirror Exposure Task.” PLoS ONE 13 (3). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0194686.