Second most popular TED talk of all time, on “power posing”, disavowed by senior author

The second most popular TED talk of all time, with over 32 million views on TED, is by Harvard Business School associate professor Amy Cuddy, called “Your body language shapes who you are”. (You can also see the talk on YouTube, where it has over 10 million views. Cuddy appears to be on “leave of absence.”)  Her point, based on research she did with two others, was that by changing your body language you can modify your hormones, thus not only influencing other people in the way you want, but changing your own physiology in a way you want.

In a guest post on this site last year, Yale graduate student Dorsa Amir, whose thesis is on a related topic, severely criticized Cuddy’s talk, first noting this:

In the talk, Cuddy presents data from her 2010 article in Psych Science [Carney et al. 2010, reference and link below]which makes the following claim: by simply changing your posture to a “high-power” pose (i.e., taking up more space and opening your limbs), you can instantly trick your body into thinking it’s more powerful. The authors tested this claim by having 42 participants give saliva samples, engage in either a high-power or a low-power pose for two minutes (depicted below), then give another saliva sample.

The saliva tubes were then sent off to a lab and analyzed for two specific hormones: testosterone and cortisol. Interestingly, the power posing appeared to have a significant effect on hormone levels: high-power poses were associated with a rise in testosterone and a drop in cortisol, and low-power poses with the opposite. So not only did the posing make you feelmore powerful, it also made your body more powerful by fiddling with your hormone levels and making you literally embody that power.

Dorsa, giving her own opinion and citing the criticism of others, noted that the study cited by Cuddy was poorly designed, liable to produce false positives, and had other problems which made its results unconvincing. After a number of criticisms, Cuddy, the paper’s second author, stood by the conclusions:


Cuddy then wrote a best-selling book that, according to the Amazon description, is largely an expansion of the “power pose” idea:

Amy Cuddy has galvanized tens of millions of viewers around the world with her TED talk about “power poses.” Now she presents the enthralling science underlying these and many other fascinating body-mind effects, and teaches us how to use simple techniques to liberate ourselves from fear in high-pressure moments, perform at our best, and connect with and empower others to do the same.


But now we have a rare event: the senior author of the 2010 paper, Dana R. Carney (now at the Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley), completely disavowing the results of the paper and its conclusions about the physiological effects of power posing. The disavowal is in a statement on her own website, “My position on ‘power poses'” (free pdf). Admitting that the paper engaged in “p hacking” (using the test that provided the lowest probability that the results were due to chance alone), the fact that other reviewers couldn’t replicate Carney et al., and discouraging others from working any more on this problem, Carney said this:

As evidence has come in over these past 2+ years, my views have updated to reflect the evidence. As such, I do not believe that “power pose” effects are real.

. . . Where do I Stand on the Existence of “Power Poses”

1. I do not have any faith in the embodied effects of “power poses.” I do not think the effect is real.
2. I do not study the embodied effects of power poses.
3. I discourage others from studying power poses.
4. I do not teach power poses in my classes anymore.
5. I do not talk about power poses in the media and haven’t for over 5 years (well before skepticism set in)
6. I have on my website and my downloadable CV my skepticism about the effect and links to both the failed replication by Ranehill et al. and to Simmons & Simonsohn’s p-curve paper suggesting no effect. And this document.

Carney’s stance is admirable, but Cuddy, as far as I can see, hasn’t disavowed the paper at all—after all, her book is largely based on it. But perhaps Carney is also trying to get ahead of the game, for a paper is just about to come out in Psychological Science showing, by a meta-analysis of all the data, that there’s not a shred of evidence for the “power posing” effect, which seems likely to be due to selective reporting of positive results. A preprinted version is available on the Social Science Research Network (reference and free download below); here’s its abstract:


In a well-known article, Carney, Cuddy, and Yap (2010) documented the benefits of “power posing”. In their study, participants (N=42) who were randomly assigned to briefly adopt expansive, powerful postures sought more risk, had higher testosterone levels, and had lower cortisol levels than those assigned to adopt contractive, powerless postures. In their response to a failed replication by Ranehill et al. (2015), Carney, Cuddy, and Yap (2015) reviewed 33 successful studies investigating the effects of expansive vs. contractive posing, focusing on differences between these studies and the failed replication, to identify possible moderators that future studies could explore. But before spending valuable resources on that, it is useful to establish whether the literature that Carney et al. (2015) cited actually suggests that power posing is effective. In this paper we rely on p-curve analysis to answer the following question: Does the literature reviewed by Carney et al. (2015) suggest the existence of an effect once we account for selective reporting? We conclude not. The distribution of p-values from those 33 studies is indistinguishable from what is expected if (1) the average effect size were zero, and (2) selective reporting (of studies and/or analyses) were solely responsible for the significant effects that are published. Although more highly powered future research may find replicable evidence for the purported benefits of power posing (or unexpected detriments), the existing evidence is too weak to justify a search for moderators or to advocate for people to engage in power posing to better their lives.
So an error has been swept away, which does constitute scientific progress, and Cuddy is crying all the way to the bank.
h/t: Dorsa Amir


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, 1363-1368.

Simmons, J. P. and U. Simonsohn. 2016. Power posing: P-curving the evidence. Psychol. Sci., in press.



  1. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted September 26, 2016 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    You know this stuff is gold.

    But it’s going to look silly when someone gets up to give a talk and the audience can see it a mile away – “yeah we see your power pose – now how about some power brain waves coming out your mouth?”

    “Oooh but I saw this TED talk!”


  2. Posted September 26, 2016 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    That’s a nice paper by Simmons and Simonsohn, very cool application.

  3. Randall Schenck
    Posted September 26, 2016 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    A case of wanting something to be true because you believe it. Fits religion perfectly but not so good for science. Think I’ll stay away from that power lunch.

  4. Posted September 26, 2016 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    There goes the main evidence for “manspreading” as a display of patriarchal dominance.

  5. Heather Hastie
    Posted September 26, 2016 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    It takes courage to admit you’re wrong in such circumstances. Good on those who do it.

  6. Kevin
    Posted September 26, 2016 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    I work around some people who believe this stuff. Transparent and idiotic: auspices of power and dominance rather than doing one’s homework.

    Two excellent signs of a good scientist who doesn’t care what others thing:

    1. Attire. e.g., T-shirt & jeans and always talk science, not money or management.

    2. Work whenever they want (irregular hours) because they know that when they work, they really work and they work because they want to, not because they have to.

  7. TJR
    Posted September 26, 2016 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    So, all that stuff on power-posing was based on one low-powered study.

    The irony, it burns.

    I’m just teaching on an MSc module where as part of a tutorial I get the students to read and critically comment on Ioannidis’s paper “Why most published research findings are false”.

  8. kubla
    Posted September 26, 2016 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    Alex Tabarrok, at Marginal Revolution, linked to a long and interesting post in which Andrew Gelman talks about the changes that have been taking place in psychology. The post includes a chronology of events that goes back to the 1960s. It’s well worth reading.

    • GodlessMarkets
      Posted September 26, 2016 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

      That is a great link. The Gelman article really does make on think about what should be considered established wisdom, especially in the social sciences.

  9. Posted September 26, 2016 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    This study was catnip for news orgs like NPR.

    The study had prominent coverage on Morning Edition, Here and Now, On Point, Ted Radio Hour (obviously), and Invisibilia as well as, Im sure, others. Krista Tippett probably found some spiritual angle, too.

    I wonder if any of them will mention this disavowal?

    • charlize
      Posted September 26, 2016 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

      Don’t hold your breadth.

  10. Flemur
    Posted September 26, 2016 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    Have they tried gluten-free poser power?

  11. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted September 26, 2016 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    I had heard about this issue a while ago. I must admit that on the face of it, the claim that power posing at least could make you feel more confident and powerful does not seem too far fetched to me. But if there is no data to back it up then we must reject this hypothesis.
    Oh well, science moves forward.

    • J.Baldwin
      Posted September 26, 2016 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

      I’m not ashamed to say that I read the original Carney, Cuddy, and Yap (2010) paper years ago. Their conclusions were plausible. I found it intriguing enough to use in my classes as a way of helping students overcome speech communication anxiety. “Stage fright” is real, and for many people debilitating. Any tool that helped students overcome their fear of public speaking was worth a try. Anecdotally speaking, I saw it work in my classes–no doubt I witnessed a placebo effect (or my own confirmation bias). However, I quit using it a year or so ago after the study’s validity was undermined. The placebo effect I was a witness to wasn’t worth my personal credibility.

    • Posted September 26, 2016 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

      I feel more confident and powerful when I am dressed with certain clothes. My current position sort of requires me to use suits. However, two decades ago, I could walk every day in jeans and a T-shirt, but when going to an exam or dealing with someone who seemed inclined to deceive me, I put on a suit and a skirt.

      Of course, the very purpose of these unpractical clothes is to impress the “enemy”. However, I felt more confident and optimistic for the moment when I put them on. This effect is often described in literature, from ancient times. Must be a sort of placebo effect, as J. Baldwin already said.

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted September 26, 2016 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

      The problem is that Cuddy is basically preaching the Prosperity Gospel of self-help: act like you have confidence to spare, and you’ll be rewarded with a wealth of confidence. It gets cause and effect exactly backwards.

  12. Alpha Neil
    Posted September 26, 2016 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    Does this mean I have to stop bluff charging my boss? Should probably back off on the dry-humping too.

    • GBJames
      Posted September 26, 2016 at 1:53 pm | Permalink


    • keith cook +/-
      Posted September 26, 2016 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

      I feel significantly humoured to take on the day…

  13. Richard C
    Posted September 26, 2016 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

    That’s one tough and unambiguous disavowal. Kudos to Prof. Carney for following evidence where it leads and holding the scientific process above any personal ego she might have.

  14. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted September 27, 2016 at 5:23 am | Permalink

    Any time I try power posing (or even ‘standing on my dignity’) that nasty subversive little daemon in the back of my brain whispers in my ear “Do you realise what a twat you look like?”

    Impossible to maintain the facade with him sticking pins in my ego.


  15. jeffery
    Posted September 27, 2016 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

    I saw a news article the other day where “Deepcrap” Chopra teamed up with a woman on a book as to how you can make yourself more beautiful just by how you think! Unfortunately, no comments were allowed. Not far-fetched, in Chopra’s reality, as he thinks you can change your DNA just by thinking the right thoughts.

  16. Posted September 28, 2016 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

    Obligatory XKCD cartoon on p hacking.

  17. Wayne Tyson
    Posted October 23, 2016 at 5:06 pm | Permalink


    Harkens back to the EST “seminars” (Sociopathology 101) that basically taught that if you were aggressive enough you would “win.”

    I always have found women more sexy, regardless of their appearance, who actually think rather than believe, especially “Deep crap” about how they should look, as in glamor. I’m fond of this statement by the late Jean Peters, with whom I was madly in love as a teenager.

    “A clothes horse seldom has lines or situations that pierce the outer layer and get into the core of life. After all, a woman in the latest Paris creation might feel and think like a plain, simple soul but the clothes she wears would prevent her from revealing exactly what she feels and thinks. One look in the mirror and she must live up to what she sees there. The same is true on screen. If the character is chic and soignee and lines are either ‘bright’ or ‘smart aleck’ I do not think of myself as a person suited to reading such lines. Sophistication in an actress usually comes from many years of training. I came to the screen from the classroom and I’m learning as I go along. I like to play roles I understand. As I am a farm girl, born and raised near Canton, Ohio, I like the frank, honest approach. Innuendo, intrigue, the devious slant, are foreign to me and to the sort of character I best understand. I often think our glamorization of Hollywood stars – the perpetual photographing us in ermine and bouffant tulle, in French bathing suits or sleek satin – throws the public off. They don’t recognize us as human beings subject to the same discomforts of climate and working conditions as they are. They expect to see that goddess leading couple of wolfhounds come striding onto the set. Because I like to get away from all that and down to the heart of things I choose such characters as Josefa, or Anne, or Louise, the girl in Lure of the Wilderness.[21]” (From

    And, of course, Sofia, but only in the good old days . . .

    As to men, strength is strength, but brutality, arrogance and pretense are reactions to fear, or, if I may say so, cloaked cowardice. But then I didn’t intend to bring up the election/erection. If you are indeed strong, you don’t need to puff up or blow hard.

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