Expansive Body Language Decreases Power for Some

Lora E Park Bunting

Lora E Park Bunting

Expansive body postures and feelings of power are related for some cultures, but not all, according to SUNY’s Lora E. Park Bunting and Lindsey Streamer with Li Huang of INSEAD and Columbia’s Adam D. Galinsky.

Lindsey Streamer

Lindsey Streamer

They built on much-cited work by Columbia’s Dana R. Carney and Andy J. Yap with Amy J.C. Cuddy of Harvard, demonstrating the posture-power connection, by evaluating three expansive postures among Americans and East Asians:

  • Hands spread on a desk
  • Upright sitting
  • Feet on a desk
Li Huang

Li Huang

Park and team demonstrated that “embodied emotion” depends on the posture and its symbolic meaning within the prevailing cultural context.

Adam Galinsky

Adam Galinsky

Both Americans and East Asians rated the feet-on-desk pose as least consistent with East Asian cultural norms of modesty, humility, and restraint.
In contrast, when Americans assumed this posture, they experienced greater power activation and action orientation.

This effect was reversed for East Asians when they demonstrated the feet-on-desk pose:  They showed less power activation and action orientation than Americans in this position.

However, when Americans and East Asians assumed hands-spread-on-desk and upright-sitting postures, they reported a greater sense of power than when they held a constricted posture (sitting with hands tucked underneath their thighs).

Albert Mehrabian

Albert Mehrabian

Changes in a person’s mood, emotion, and feelings expressed by changes in body posture was first demonstrated by Albert Mehrabian and John T. Friar of UCLA.

They asked nearly 50 volunteers to sit as they would in addressing another person in a variety of imagined scenarios.

Mehrabian and Friar considered relationships between Communicator attitude and gender as well as Addressee status and gender in relation to eye contact, interpersonal distance, head orientation, shoulder orientation, leg orientation, arm openness, leg openness, and hand, foot, and trunk relaxation.

Positive attitude was demonstrated by a slight backward lean of the torso, close distance, and greater eye contact.
When communicating with “high status” individuals, Communicators provided more eye contact and less sideways leaning.
Female Communicators used a more constrained posture with less arm openness when communicating with “higher status” individuals.

Dana Carney

Dana Carney

Carney and team demonstrated that these postural changes elicit measurable neuroendocrine changes.
When people in the U.S. assumed in high-power nonverbal displays, their  testosterone increased, their cortisol decreased and they reported increased feelings of power and tolerance for risk.

Andy Yap

Andy Yap

University of Florida’s Andrea Kleinsmith, P. Ravindra De Silva at Toyohashi University of Technology and University College London’s Nadia Bianchi-Berthouze demonstrated these cross-cultural differences in perceiving emotion and subjective experience from body posture.

Andrea Kleinsmith

Andrea Kleinsmith

Kleinsmith and team used static posture images of affectively expressive avatars or “embodied agents” to test emotion recognition by volunteers from three cultures. From these findings, they developed cultural models for affective posture recognition.

Andrea Kleinsmith-avatarsThese results suggest both the impact of changing body postures to elicit different feeling states, and caveats when adopting expansive postures to activate power while interacting across cultural groups.

Ravindra De Silva

Ravindra De Silva

Encouragement to “Think Big, Play Big” may require specific recommendations for culturally appropriate action.

-*How do you demonstrate power when interacting with colleagues from different cultural backgrounds?

Nadia Bianchi-Berthouze

Nadia Bianchi-Berthouze

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