'Power posing' also boosts confidence in children, new study shows
The study provides initial evidence that open, strong postures can improve children's mood and self-esteem.
Parents and teachers worry about children's self-esteem, and with good reason. They want children to feel loved, confident, and proud of what they do. They hope that healthy self-esteem will propel them to challenge themselves in adulthood and strive for meaningful relationships while avoiding the unhealthy self-esteem devils of depression, harsh self-criticism, and unhealthy life habits.
To that end, parents and teachers shower children with self-esteem boosters. They read children's books starring confidence protagonists (keep standing tall, Molly Lou Melon). They encourage children to pursue hobbies and extracurricular activities they find fulfilling. And they, of course, heap loving-kindness upon them.
But according to a recent study published in the journal School Psychology International, it's possible parents and teachers have been overlooking a critical yet obvious source of self-esteem boosting: body posture.
Strike a pose
A woman strikes a classic power pose. Research suggests this Wonder Woman pose may bolster her confidence (Batman shirt optional).
The concept of power posing (a.k.a. postural feedback) became a business world fixation in 2012. That year, social psychologist Amy Cuddy presented a TED Talk detailing her 2010 research with psychologist Dana Carney and Andy Tap. It quickly became the second most-watched TED Talk ever.
The gist of Cuddy's hypothesis is simple. Nonverbals, such as body language, don't just affect how others perceive us; they also change how we perceive ourselves. If we maintain "high-power poses"—that is, postures expressing friendliness, strength, and openness—our minds will interpret those qualities as self-possessed.
Conversely, "low-power poses" that contort our bodies to be confined, compact, and scrunched up have the opposite effect. In social situations, our minds analyze our body language, perceive us to be equally diminutive, and start pumping in the cortisol.
Cuddy's research focused on adults, asking study participants to hold high-power or low-power poses for two minutes before a mock interview. The evaluators, who were blind to the pre-interview posturing, chose the high-power posturers more often than their low-power peers.
And these effects may be more than subconscious self-persuasion; they may be biochemical. Cuddy's research suggests power posing increases testosterone and decreases cortisol levels, the latter being associated with stress while the former promotes assertion, confidence, and comfort.
Slouching bad for more than a child's posture?
A recent study suggests that power posing's positive effects can also improve confidence and positive feelings in children.
For the new study, researchers wanted to see if these positive effects held true for children.
"Children from the age of five are able to recognize and interpret the body posture of others," Robert Körner, the study's lead author and a member at the Institute of Psychology at Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg, said in a release. He added, "Power posing is the nonverbal expression of power. It involves making very bold gestures and changes in body posture."
To test this, the researchers conducted an experiment similar to Cuddy's. They separated 108 fourth graders into two groups. One group assumed two open high-power poses for a minute a day. The other group folded their arms and hung their heads, a low-power pose. After posing, both groups completed a series of psychological tests.
The children who assumed a high-power pose reported higher self-esteem than those who assumed a low-power pose. They also mentioned more positive feelings and better student-teacher relationships. An indirect assessment of the children also showed the high-power pose generated an overall better mood.
"Here, power posing had the strongest effect on the children's self-esteem," concludes Körner. "Teachers could try and see whether this method helps their students."
The power of posing up for debate
But there are caveats. In the release, Körner notes that expectations for the power-posing need to be tempered against scientific reality. In his experiment, the observed effects were short-term, and he warns that the technique should not be considered a treatment. Children or adults with a mental illness should seek treatment from trained professionals.
Power posing itself has also ignited a heated debate among psychologists. Though Cuddy continues to publish research showing the positive effects of power posing, other researchers have not been able to replicate her results. For example, eleven studies out of Michigan State University could not show the positive effects of power posing on behavioral measures such as job interviews or business negotiations.
These studies were even reviewed by Dana Carney, one of Cuddy's co-authors for the 2010 study, who has since argued that the evidence doesn't support belief in power posing.
"There is currently little reason to continue to strongly believe that holding these expansive poses will meaningfully affect people's lives, especially the lives of the low-status or powerless people," Joseph Cesario, MSU associate professor of psychology, said in a release. Cesario co-edits Comprehensive Results in Social Psychology, the scientific journal that published seven of the eleven studies.
That's how science works, though. Studies show an effect or outcome, other studies try to replicate it, and debate continues until the evidence amasses toward a more uniform direction. Until that debate is settled, however, there are still many other ways parents and teachers can bolster healthy confidence and self-esteem in children.
A few simple strategies: Don't overpraise children or gush over inherent qualities and abilities. Instead, praise children for their effort and tenacity to foster a growth mindset. Be a role model of not only self-esteem but also self-compassion. Find the balance between offering help but not doing everything for them, which includes knowing when to let go and increase a child's individual responsibility.
And even if power posing isn't an instant self-esteem booster, that doesn't mean children and parents can't have fun with it.
- Harvard Business Professor Amy Cuddy on Success Through ... ›
- How Your Body Language Alters Your State of Mind - Big Think ›
- A New Replication Suggests 'Power Posing' Is a Waste of Time, but ... ›
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Physics without time<p>In his book "The Order of Time," Italian theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli suggests that our perception of time — our sense that time is forever flowing forward — could be a highly subjective projection. After all, when you look at reality on the smallest scale (using equations of quantum gravity, at least), time vanishes.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"If I observe the microscopic state of things," writes Rovelli, "then the difference between past and future vanishes … in the elementary grammar of things, there is no distinction between 'cause' and 'effect.'"</p><p>So, why do we perceive time as flowing <em>forward</em>? Rovelli notes that, although time disappears on extremely small scales, we still obviously perceive events occur sequentially in reality. In other words, we observe entropy: Order changing into disorder; an egg cracking and getting scrambled.</p><p>Rovelli says key aspects of time are described by the second law of thermodynamics, which states that heat always passes from hot to cold. This is a one-way street. For example, an ice cube melts into a hot cup of tea, never the reverse. Rovelli suggests a similar phenomenon might explain why we're only able to perceive the past and not the future.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Any time the future is definitely distinguishable from the past, there is something like heat involved," Rovelli wrote for the <a href="https://www.ft.com/content/ce6ef7b8-429a-11e8-93cf-67ac3a6482fd" target="_blank"><em>Financial Times</em></a>. "Thermodynamics traces the direction of time to something called the 'low entropy of the past', a still mysterious phenomenon on which discussions rage."</p>
The strange subjectivity of time<p>Time moves differently atop a mountain than it does on a beach. But you don't need to travel any distance at all to experience strange distortions in your perception of time. In moments of life-or-death fear, for example, your brain would release large amounts of adrenaline, which would speed up your internal clock, causing you to perceive the outside world as moving slowly.<br></p><p>Another common distortion occurs when we focus our attention in particular ways.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"If you're thinking about how time is <em>currently</em> passing by, the biggest factor influencing your time perception is attention," Aaron Sackett, associate professor of marketing at the University of St. Thomas, told <em><a href="https://gizmodo.com/why-does-time-slow-down-and-speed-up-1840133782" target="_blank">Gizmodo</a></em>.<em> "</em>The more attention you give to the passage of time, the slower it tends to go. As you become distracted from time's passing—perhaps by something interesting happening nearby, or a good daydreaming session—you're more likely to lose track of time, giving you the feeling that it's slipping by more quickly than before. "Time flies when you're having fun," they say, but really, it's more like "time flies when you're thinking about other things." That's why time will also often fly by when you're definitely <em>not</em> having fun—like when you're having a heated argument or are terrified about an upcoming presentation."</p><p>One of the most mysterious ways people experience time-perception distortions is through psychedelic drugs. In an interview with <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/apr/14/carlo-rovelli-exploding-commonsense-notions-order-of-time-interview" target="_blank"><em>The Guardian</em></a>, Rovelli described a time he experimented with LSD.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"It was an extraordinarily strong experience that touched me also intellectually," he said. "Among the strange phenomena was the sense of time stopping. Things were happening in my mind but the clock was not going ahead; the flow of time was not passing any more. It was a total subversion of the structure of reality."<br></p><p>It seems few scientists or philosophers believe time is completely an illusion.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"What we call <em>time</em> is a rich, stratified concept; it has many layers," Rovelli told <em><a href="https://physicstoday.scitation.org/do/10.1063/PT.6.4.20190219a/full/" target="_blank">Physics Today</a>.</em> "Some of time's layers apply only at limited scales within limited domains. This does not make them illusions."</p>What <em>is</em> an illusion is the idea that time flows at an absolute rate. The river of time might be flowing forever forward, but it moves at different speeds, between people, and even within your own mind.
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