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Considering your body language in job interviews

Standing in a “power pose” for a few moments reduces stress hormones and makes us feel strong and confident.

Could a simple “power pose” before a job interview, for example, signal a strong enough alteration to our brain chemistry that it produces an increase in self/perceived confidence, and in turn, higher increase of positive outcome in job interviews?

This semester, I attended a live lecture from the PSYC1107 topic, The Psychology of Weird and Wonderful Ideas, where we ran through beliefs that people generally have strong opinions about, but without data to back up why we believe in one idea over another. The aim of this particular lecture was to get us thinking deeper about the data behind beliefs, and how valid some beliefs and theories are…

I wondered about how the placebo effect works – could this theory of taking a confident “power pose” result in a positive placebo effect of increased confidence? In others around us noticing this “power pose”, does the amygdala pick up on these body-language cues as it does with subtle physiological, (e.g. facial) emotional cues, which signal in a person before us to react to this perceived confidence, and respond accordingly?

Albeit, is there actually any adequate empirical data that exists to support these theories?

That’s when it clicked in my head – – this thought tangent made me think of Jordan B. Peterson (JP), a clinical psychologist and lecturer at the University of Toronto (and previously at Harvard University), and his study of lobsters… hear me out!

Peterson goes into detail about the human neurological system, linking it to our lobster friends. In Chapter 1 (Rule 1) ‘Stand up straight with your shoulders back,’ from his book 12 Rules for Life – An Antidote to Chaos, JP speaks about the behavioural hierarchies that take place within the lobster world; which relate to humans. He speaks about his studies in depth, of the situation: when a newcomer lobster is placed into a tank with other lobsters.

The situation occurs as follows – the largest male lobster approaches the newcomer with his tail raised high behind him. The higher the serotonin levels, the better regulated postural flexion (an extended tail in lobsters, or extended spine in humans) to signal one’s confidence, capability, strength, and dominance. This hierarchy is tested if the newcomer decides he has the ability to take on the current “alpha” lobster, so to speak. They sometimes will engage in combat, snipping at one another until one is badly hurt and or backs down. It is noteworthy that more than half of the time, no physical fight actually takes place, as lobsters primarily assert their dominance through physical expression. The victor is self-rewarded with a neurological serotonin hit, and the defeated lobster adopts a “losing” mind set, his brain shrinks, and is far less likely to challenge another lobster – even those previously defeated.

Humans react and are affected in very similar ways when faced with these challenges of position, and our bodies’ physically respond by establishing positive or negative feedback loops (patterns) in our brain chemistry and behaviour. If you win, you continue to win as you have increased serotonin and dopamine production, providing a desire to look further into the future, compared to a losing mind set and shorter outlook. As a result, the latter are more likely to engage in alcohol and substance abuse for temporary pleasure.

JP notes our similar obedience to societal dominance hierarchies. Wherever a human feels their status is situated, our serotonin and dopamine levels are considerably affected by this factor. Thus, good posture signifies high status. Apart from our similar neurological make up and response pathways, the lobster victor is also observed to receive his “dibs” of the best territory for shelter, first and best pick of the food shared, and his pick of female candidates desiring his good genetics for reproduction.

Another source, in agreeance with the initial statement, has recorded a similar effect as stated by social psychologist (University of Colorado), Amy Cuddy in her book and Ted Talk both titled Presence, which explores the theme of power poses (Chapter 9, ‘How to Pose for Presence’).

Although there is evidence in support to the initial statement, this particular theory and subsequent experiments have fallen subject to the “replication crisis”. This means that the experiments centred on the initial statement are difficult to replicate, generating conflicting data.

There is recent, even updated, quality and quantity of data, which has supported research in the opposite direction; hence research exists that goes against the initial statement… So now, scientists are thinking – well, maybe this claim is not entirely “true”. There is not a black or white answer in the name of science as of yet.

With ambiguous data, such as on this topic, there is all the more reason to conduct more experiments. Psychological scientists continue to research the neurology behind our posture, power poses and such, and how it can predict the neurochemistry and behavioural patterns of humans; keep your eyes peeled on the new data being produced!

For now, if you want to help improve your professional interactions, especially coming to job hunting season, (as Summer Casual positions start to open up this time of year), why not try the lobster’s tactics? Give it a go and “stand up straight with your shoulders back”.

Let us know in the comments below how your self-experiment goes, what results you find in your own confidence levels, and the possible altered behaviour from those towards you.

Author: Sophia Ellacott.
Edited by Gurki Gill.

Adapted from:
1. Emma Thompson’s Week 1 (29/07/20) PSYC1107 The Psychology of Weird and Wonderful Ideas ‘Introduction Lecture’
2. Alexander Emmanual. (2018, April 6th) Rule 1: Stand Up Straight With Your Shoulders Back. The Neurochemistry of Defeat and Victory. Medium. (2020, September 11th)
3. Jordan B. Peterson. (2018). 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos. Penguin.

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