A New Replication Suggests 'Power Posing' Is a Waste of Time, but Here's Why You'll Still Be Told to Do It for Years to Come

The second most-watched TED Talk of all time has been debunked.

Last year on this blog, we looked in some depth at the widely reported research that suggested posing in a powerful position can influence hormones and behavior. The research made a huge splash, featuring as the subject of the second most-popular TED talk of all time with over 25 million views. But according to a far larger attempted replication of this research recently published in Psychological Science, the effects are all in the mind.


While the original study, which linked power posing to changes in levels of cortisol and testosterone, had only 42 participants, the replication used 200 participants and, crucially, a design in which the experimenter was blinded and the instructions were given by a computer, preventing any possibility for the experimenter's unconscious cues to bias the participants. In the replication, power posing did make people say they felt more powerful but had no effect on hormones or actual behavior.

In a detailed response by the original researchers, it is also pointed out that the replication involved no deception, while nearly every study on power posing involved carefully deceiving the participants with a cover story. This is arguably a somewhat moot point however, as the point of power poses is for individuals to improve their self-confidence by putting themselves in a power pose before engaging in an interview or other stressful task. If the effect only works when we are tricked into it, then that would make power posing an interesting phenomenon, but useless in practice.

The original authors also suggest a number of other reasons the replication may have failed: Most of the original power pose findings were tested in a social context, with real experimenters and participants engaging in social tasks. The replication, however, removed all interactions with other people so that they could not unknowingly bias the participants. Another change from the original experiment was that in the replication, the power poses were held for six minutes instead of three minutes, which could have left participants feeling awkward or uncomfortable rather than powerful.

To their great credit, the original authors have made all of their materials fully available so that anyone who wants to can conduct further replications to try to pin down what, if anything, is really behind the original power pose findings.

At this point, however, according to a detailed statistical analysis by DataColada of the statistical significance of all power posing replications to date, the power posing effect seems too weak to be worth engaging in. Will that stop people? Probably not. While the original TED talk has 25 million views and the original paper countless citations, research shows that original scientific findings are cited 17 times more than their rebuttals and in the rare instances rebuttals are cited, "the citing papers on average had neutral views of the original article, and 8 percent actually believed that the rebuttal agreed with the original article." Similarly, as we have discussed previously, news stories (like this one) which rebut original stories are only ever shared a tiny fraction of the amount the original stories — I, for one, am not holding my breath for 17 million hits. So real or not, power posing is likely here to stay as a prominent feature of your Facebook feed and water-cooler-chit-chats for years to come.

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Reference:

Carney D.R., Cuddy A.J.C. & Yap A.J. (2010). Power Posing: Brief Nonverbal Displays Affect Neuroendocrine Levels and Risk Tolerance, Psychological Science, 21 (10) 1363-1368. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0956797610383437

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New fossils suggest human ancestors evolved in Europe, not Africa

Experts argue the jaws of an ancient European ape reveal a key human ancestor.

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  • The jaw bones of an 8-million-year-old ape were discovered at Nikiti, Greece, in the '90s.
  • Researchers speculate it could be a previously unknown species and one of humanity's earliest evolutionary ancestors.
  • These fossils may change how we view the evolution of our species.

Homo sapiens have been on earth for 200,000 years — give or take a few ten-thousand-year stretches. Much of that time is shrouded in the fog of prehistory. What we do know has been pieced together by deciphering the fossil record through the principles of evolutionary theory. Yet new discoveries contain the potential to refashion that knowledge and lead scientists to new, previously unconsidered conclusions.

A set of 8-million-year-old teeth may have done just that. Researchers recently inspected the upper and lower jaw of an ancient European ape. Their conclusions suggest that humanity's forebearers may have arisen in Europe before migrating to Africa, potentially upending a scientific consensus that has stood since Darwin's day.

Rethinking humanity's origin story

The frontispiece of Thomas Huxley's Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature (1863) sketched by natural history artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

As reported in New Scientist, the 8- to 9-million-year-old hominin jaw bones were found at Nikiti, northern Greece, in the '90s. Scientists originally pegged the chompers as belonging to a member of Ouranopithecus, an genus of extinct Eurasian ape.

David Begun, an anthropologist at the University of Toronto, and his team recently reexamined the jaw bones. They argue that the original identification was incorrect. Based on the fossil's hominin-like canines and premolar roots, they identify that the ape belongs to a previously unknown proto-hominin.

The researchers hypothesize that these proto-hominins were the evolutionary ancestors of another European great ape Graecopithecus, which the same team tentatively identified as an early hominin in 2017. Graecopithecus lived in south-east Europe 7.2 million years ago. If the premise is correct, these hominins would have migrated to Africa 7 million years ago, after undergoing much of their evolutionary development in Europe.

Begun points out that south-east Europe was once occupied by the ancestors of animals like the giraffe and rhino, too. "It's widely agreed that this was the found fauna of most of what we see in Africa today," he told New Scientists. "If the antelopes and giraffes could get into Africa 7 million years ago, why not the apes?"

He recently outlined this idea at a conference of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists.

It's worth noting that Begun has made similar hypotheses before. Writing for the Journal of Human Evolution in 2002, Begun and Elmar Heizmann of the Natural history Museum of Stuttgart discussed a great ape fossil found in Germany that they argued could be the ancestor (broadly speaking) of all living great apes and humans.

"Found in Germany 20 years ago, this specimen is about 16.5 million years old, some 1.5 million years older than similar species from East Africa," Begun said in a statement then. "It suggests that the great ape and human lineage first appeared in Eurasia and not Africa."

Migrating out of Africa

In the Descent of Man, Charles Darwin proposed that hominins descended out of Africa. Considering the relatively few fossils available at the time, it is a testament to Darwin's astuteness that his hypothesis remains the leading theory.

Since Darwin's time, we have unearthed many more fossils and discovered new evidence in genetics. As such, our African-origin story has undergone many updates and revisions since 1871. Today, it has splintered into two theories: the "out of Africa" theory and the "multi-regional" theory.

The out of Africa theory suggests that the cradle of all humanity was Africa. Homo sapiens evolved exclusively and recently on that continent. At some point in prehistory, our ancestors migrated from Africa to Eurasia and replaced other subspecies of the genus Homo, such as Neanderthals. This is the dominant theory among scientists, and current evidence seems to support it best — though, say that in some circles and be prepared for a late-night debate that goes well past last call.

The multi-regional theory suggests that humans evolved in parallel across various regions. According to this model, the hominins Homo erectus left Africa to settle across Eurasia and (maybe) Australia. These disparate populations eventually evolved into modern humans thanks to a helping dollop of gene flow.

Of course, there are the broad strokes of very nuanced models, and we're leaving a lot of discussion out. There is, for example, a debate as to whether African Homo erectus fossils should be considered alongside Asian ones or should be labeled as a different subspecies, Homo ergaster.

Proponents of the out-of-Africa model aren't sure whether non-African humans descended from a single migration out of Africa or at least two major waves of migration followed by a lot of interbreeding.

Did we head east or south of Eden?

Not all anthropologists agree with Begun and his team's conclusions. As noted by New Scientist, it is possible that the Nikiti ape is not related to hominins at all. It may have evolved similar features independently, developing teeth to eat similar foods or chew in a similar manner as early hominins.

Ultimately, Nikiti ape alone doesn't offer enough evidence to upend the out of Africa model, which is supported by a more robust fossil record and DNA evidence. But additional evidence may be uncovered to lend further credence to Begun's hypothesis or lead us to yet unconsidered ideas about humanity's evolution.