January 31, 2016

Doubts about the 'powerpose' finding of Amy Cuddy

In 2012 Amy Cuddy of Harvard Business School gave a TED entitled 'Your body language shapes who you are' which has now been viewed more than 31 million times. In the presentation Cuddy tells about a study she has done into 'power posing' (Carney, Cuddy & Yap, 2010). A power pose is a posture of confidence, which according to the study could lead to higher testosterone and cortisol levels in the brain and which could create more self-confidence and a higher chance of success in situations which require us to appear strong and confident, such as application interviews. In the meantime a book by Amy Cuddy has been published entitled Presence, Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges. It seems to be on its way to become a bestseller.

But there is also a problem. As I have written about before (here) there is quite a bit of consternation within social psychology about the fact that many research finding have not been found in replication studies. I guess you can see where this is going: researchers Ranehill et al. (2015) have attempted to replicate the findings by Cuddy and her colleagues and have not succeeded. In this blog post, Joe Simmons and Uri Simonsohn analyze both studies. In this article Andrew Gelman and Kaiser Fung suggest that the powerpose study is an example of scientific overreach. And in this blog post, Gelman describes how Cuddy responds in what looks like a defensive manner to the criticisms that have arisen.

My view: it appears that the critics are right. It seems that the initial findings have been presented with much eagerness and quite soon. Cuddy's emotional response (” I’m tired of being bullied, and yes, that’s what it is”) appears to me to be misguided. At the same time I don't think it is either justified or useful to depict her as a culprit just as I do not think it is fair to depict her critics as bullies. What this is about is the need to apply more caution in the presentation of psychological knowledge. Amy Cuddy is not the only person who seems to have been too eager to bring to market an unreplicated finding. Many others seem to have done the same (read this). Personal accusations will probably not help. What will help is factual criticism and more caution in presenting psychological research findings.

1 comment:

  1. The search for truth in this area has evolved since this post, and continues to support most of Amy Cuddy's findings. See for example Power: Past findings, present considerations, and future directions.
    Galinsky, Adam D.; Rucker, Derek D.; Magee, Joe C.
    Mikulincer, Mario (Ed); Shaver, Phillip R. (Ed); Simpson, Jeffry A. (Ed); Dovidio, John F. (Ed). (2015). APA handbook of personality and social psychology, Volume 3: Interpersonal relations., (pp. 421-460). Washington, DC, US: American Psychological Association, xxix, 668 pp. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/14344-016

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