At the moment, both my father and I are recovering from bad backs. This is ironic. Although neither my father nor I have perfect posture, all throughout my childhood, I remember my father coming up behind me, putting his hands on my shoulders and pulling them backwards with the admonishment, “Stand up straight!”
As a teenager, I did not heed my father’s advice. In fact, when I hit puberty, I started to slouch even more in order to hide the changes of my maturing body, despite the fact that I attended a girls’ school and there were no boys to poke fun at me. Actually, quite the opposite happened. My outspoken friend Cherise used to run her finger between my shoulder blades and say, “Honey, if you’ve got it, flaunt it!” Now, when I do core exercises at the gym and ice my back back to health I think to myself, “…if only I had listened.”Good Posture Matters
However, recent research shows that good posture is important for reasons besides a healthy spine. Kellogg School of Management professor Adam Galinsky and Kellogg PhD candidate Li Huang, along with Stanford Graduate School of Business professor Deborah Gruenfeld and Stanford PhD candidate Lucia Guillory, found that our posture has a significant effect on our behavior. They found that posture, more than a person’s actual rank or hierarchical role in an organization (i.e. job title), is likely to dictate how a person will think and act.
Body language is important. Good posture connotes confidence, leadership and power. What makes the findings of Galinsky and colleagues particularly interesting is that it turns out that posture is more significant than where you are in your company’s food chain. When a person sits or stands with good posture it has a significant psychological effect. Not only do others see you as more powerful when you are in an expansive (i.e. open) posture, but you yourself think, feel, and act more powerfully.
Surprised by Results
The researchers were surprised by their findings. “Going into the research,” Huang said, “we figured role would make a big difference, but shockingly the effect of posture dominated the effect of role in each and every study.” While the academics might have been surprised by their results, my guess is that many lay people are not. Of course, the press release about the study reminds people that good posture is important for job interviews, but anyone who has been to a career counselor has likely received that advice before now. Surely, my father and Cherise knew intrinsically that it would be useful for me to have good posture, and my guess is they were thinking more about how the world would perceive me than about visits to the chiropractor.
Posture and Self-Regulation
Nonetheless, the article is an important reminder for positive psychologists. We may remember that Muraven, Baumeister, and Tice (1999) found that people who used paying attention to their posture as a means of exercising their self-regulation “muscle” were able to strengthen it. Additionally, there is the importance of the psychological and physical effects of good posture. Expansive postures are good for both the body and the mind. Standing or sitting up straight benefits us in many ways. We get more air into our lungs and our brains, we engage our core muscles and we protect our lower backs. On a psychological level, good posture changes the way we think and act, causing us to feel more powerful and act with more confidence and self-assurance.Posture Breaks
So on a personal level, I guess I will thank my Dad and Cherise, and make it my goal to follow their guidance. Additionally, I see a pragmatic use for this information in my professional life as a learning coach. Often, when I work with my students, I see them slouch over their work. From now on, I will stop and make them take posture breaks in order to help them experience a psychological shift.
Of course, I don’t want to sound like a 19th Century school marm, but clearly there was some wisdom in the old-fashioned ways. I know that once my students straighten up, they will feel more powerful and in control of the material they are learning. Also, I will remind them that when it is time to take tests they should sit up straight so they will feel more assured and confident. However, chiding them with, “Sit up straight,” won’t cut it. Instead, I’m going to have to borrow Cherise’s phrase, and remind them, “When you’ve got it, flaunt it!”
Huang, L., Galinsky, A. D., Gruenfeld, D. H. & Guillory, L. E. (2010). Powerful Postures Versus Powerful Roles: Which Is the Proximate Correlate of Thought and Behavior? Psychological Science, 2010; DOI: 10.1177/0956797610391912
Muraven, M., Baumeister, R.F., & Tice, D.M. (1999). Longitudinal improvement of self-regulation through practice: Building self-control through repeated exercise. Journal of Social Psychology, 139, 446-457.
Stand Tall, Get Ahead from Kellogg School of Management News and Events
Clasp (good posture) courtesy of liz west
Totem Pole courtesy of Vards Uzvards
The Performer Type courtesy of Frits Ahlefeldt-Laurvig
Flaunt It! courtesy of Aren Cohen