When Frank Herbert wrote “Fear is the mind-killer” in the sci-fi epic Dune, he might have been thinking of academic performance. Research suggests that stress is so powerful that it can actually shrink the brain. Of course, outstanding test preparation instills massive confidence on test day, but if anxiety strikes, the solution may be a simple power pose.
Researchers Dana R. Carney, Amy J.C. Cuddy, and Andy J. Yap wondered if a person could fake it ’til she makes it, whether nonverbal displays govern how we think and feel about ourselves? They predicted that
posing in high-power nonverbal displays would cause neuroendocrine and behavioral changes that would trigger elevations in testosterone, decreases in cortisol, and increased feelings of power and tolerance for risk. Their findings in Power Posing: Brief Nonverbal Displays Affect NeuroendocrineLevels and Risk Tolerance confirmed their hypothesis:
By simply changing physical posture, an individual prepares his or her mental and physiological systems to endure difficult and stressful situations, and perhaps to actually improve confidence and performance…
High-power poses accentuate expansiveness (taking up more space) and openness (keeping limbs open), whereas low-power poses shrink into themselves. To prepare for a stressful situation, Cuddy recommends in her very popular TED Talk that you hold your body in high-power poses for just two minutes. Power posing with arms outstretched in victory formation or sprawling confidently in your seat might raise testosterone and lower cortisol sufficiently to not only increase confidence and reduces stress, but raise your ability to take more risks and think more abstractly. When you’re taking a high stakes test, all of the above are helpful!
Power posing may not be all it’s cracked up to be, but considering how debilitating test anxiety can be, any strategy to increase confidence can be valuable. Next time you’re heading into a high pressure situation, strike a power pose and seize the moment!