Cultural Background Plays Role In How Posture Effects Our Confidence
October 15, 2013

Cultural Background Plays Role In How Posture Effects Our Confidence

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

Body language experts tell us that certain postures or body positions project confidence or even dominance over others, but a new study led by a University at Buffalo researcher has found that the perception of these ‘power positions’ depends on a person’s cultural background.

In the study, which was published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, researchers performed four distinct trials that included over 600 men and women born in either the US or an East Asia country such as China, South Korea, or Japan. Participants were assessed for their psychological response to seeing and performing expansive or constricted body positions.

“The expansive postures, which were based on previous research, consisted of an expansive-hands-spread-on-desk pose (i.e., standing up and leaning over on a desk with hands spread apart), an expansive-upright-sitting pose (i.e., resting one’s ankle on the opposite leg’s knee with one arm on the armrest and the other hand on the desk), and an expansive-feet-on-desk pose (i.e., leaning back in one’s chair with feet on top of the desk, hands placed behind one’s head, fingers interlocked and elbows spread out wide),” said study author Lora E. Park, associate professor in the Department of Psychology at UB.

“In four studies,” Park said, “the effect of each posture on participants was evaluated in comparison to a constricted body posture (e.g., sitting with hands under thighs, standing with arms wrapped around one’s body).”

The first trial revealed that the feet-on-desk pose, compared to all other postures, was seen by both Americans and East Asians as the least consistent with the ideas of modesty and humility. The second trial revealed that the hands-spread-on-desk and upright-sitting poses translated to greater feelings of power or dominance than those evoked by constricted postures for participants from both cultures.

The third trial revealed that the feet-on-desk pose led to greater feelings of power for Americans, but not for East Asians. The fourth part of the larger study revealed that after holding the feet-on-desk pose for three minutes, American study volunteers were more likely to act toward dealing with a problem or situation presented to them compared to their East Asian counterparts.

“Overall, these findings suggest that expansive postures have both universal and culturally specific effects on people’s thoughts, feelings and behavior,” Park said.

“Some postures, such as the expansive-hands-spread-on-desk and expansive-upright-sitting poses, “she added, “make people across cultures feel more powerful. In contrast, expansive postures that violate cultural norms, such as putting one’s feet on the desk, do not make all individuals feel powerful.”

“It is the symbolic meaning of a posture,” Park said, “rather than the posture itself, that influences the psychological experiences of individuals from different cultures."

The new findings follow a study published earlier this year on expansive and constricted poses by researchers at the Harvard Business School. In the study, the Harvard team found that volunteers who hunched over a smartphone to perform tasks were less assertive than those who used a full-sized computer.

“As hypothesized, compared to participants working on larger devices (e.g., an iMac), participants who worked on smaller devices (e.g., an iPad) behaved less assertively—waiting longer to interrupt an experimenter who had made them wait, or not interrupting at all,” the team wrote in their report.