'Power Poses' Co-Author: 'I Do Not Believe The Effects Are Real' NPR's Scott Simon talks to behavioral scientist Uri Simonsohn about how one of the scientists behind 2010 research on 'power poses' is distancing herself from that work.

'Power Poses' Co-Author: 'I Do Not Believe The Effects Are Real'

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AMY CUDDY: So I want to start by offering you a free no-tech lifehack. And all it requires of you is this - that you change your posture for two minutes.


More than 36 million people have watched Amy Cuddy give this TED Talk about power poses, like leaning back in your chair or standing with your hands on your hips, stances researchers said would make people feel more powerful or willing to take risks. But this week, professor Dana Carney, who was one of three scientists who conducted the research, said, quote, "I do not have any faith in the embodied effects of power poses." We're joined now by Uri Simonsohn, a behavioral scientist at the Wharton School of Business.

Thanks so much for being with us.

URI SIMONSOHN: Oh, thank you for having me.

SIMON: How do you think this went wrong?

SIMONSOHN: Like much of science, early findings are tentative and should be followed up. That's, like, on one level. Now the other level, psychology has been changing a lot in the last five, six years. People have been doing more rigorous, more large-sample studies. And so the standards were lower, at least as seen from the current perspective.

SIMON: Did alarm bells go off with you when you first heard about this?

SIMONSOHN: The alarms for me came up recently, maybe a year ago, when a team of researchers in Switzerland failed to replicate it. And me and some co-authors, we have a tool - a statistical tool that allows to tell you if a body of work has what we call evidential value - if you should trust it. And when we apply that technique to the entire body of work on power-posing, we found that no, there's no reason to believe it. That doesn't mean that the effect couldn't be documented in the future. It just means the existing evidence for it doesn't have the value that you wish it had.

SIMON: So with the advantage of hindsight, was the research flawed by inadequate design from the first?

SIMONSOHN: The only thing I would say is it had a small sample. And it's funny because it's only six years ago, but a lot has changed. Studies back then, it was very common to have a small sample. Imagine you're doing a journalistic story, and so you ask one person a question and you don't quite like the answer. So you say, I'm going to ask five people and say best out of five. Out of five people...

SIMON: Oh, you know journalism, don't you?

SIMONSOHN: (Laughter) And say if after five people you don't get it, you say best out of 10. And once you have 10 people, if the answer looks good, then you stop. And so those kinds of things that seem innocent end up messing up the statistical analysis.

SIMON: Should we take a clue from this when we read other studies?

SIMONSOHN: Yeah. So if we're covering most recent studies, we should realize these are prototypes. The way we're about now about self-driving cars - all right? - it's promising. We think it's going to happen, but we're not reporting that the streets are filled with them right now. And a lot of the times when we have this prototype of ideas, the media and people like to think of them as, this is done. They're very well-informed guesses, but they're not solid knowledge that we should take for granted.

SIMON: How difficult is it for - emotionally, if nothing else - for a scientist to say I was wrong?

SIMONSOHN: I think it's incredibly difficult, and that's why I think very highly of Dana for having done this because, basically, what she did "wrong," quote, unquote, is what people thought was normal when she did it. And what she's doing now is not normal. It is very unusual for somebody to look back at their own work and, coming forward publicly with nothing gain, and say, you know what, I don't think this is really there. That is very, very rare.

SIMON: Professor Uri Simonsohn at the Wharton School of Business, thanks so much.

SIMONSOHN: Thank you.

SIMON: Before we spoke with Uri Simonsohn, we reached out to two of the researchers behind that original study. Dana Carney declined our request. Amy Cuddy said she stands by her conclusion that power poses cause people to feel more powerful and says this effect's been replicated in other studies. But she welcomes what she called constructive examinations of new findings as the research evolves.

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