BUFFALO, N.Y. – A new set of studies by researchers at
three universities led by University at Buffalo psychologist Lora
E. Park, PhD, has found that the previously assumed link between
expansive body postures and power is not fixed, but depends on the
type of posture enacted and people’s cultural background.
“Stand Tall, but Don’t Put Your Feet Up: Universal
and Culturally-Specific Effects of Expansive Postures on
Power” is reported in the November 2013 issue of the Journal
of Experimental Social Psychology (Vol. 49, Issue 5). Park’s
co-authors are Lindsey Streamer, UB doctoral student in social
psychology; Li Huang, PhD, assistant professor of organizational
behavior, INSEAD; and Adam Galinsky, Vikram S. Pandit Professor
of Business, Columbia Business School.
The researchers conducted four studies with more than 600 men
and women born in the U.S. or East Asia (e.g., China, South Korea,
Japan) in order to examine the psychological experience of viewing
and enacting expansive (versus constricted) body postures.
“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),” says
Park, associate professor in the Department of Psychology.
“In four studies,” she says, “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).
Study 1 found that the expansive-feet-on-desk pose, compared to
other expansive or constricted postures, was perceived by both
Americans and East Asians as the least consistent with East Asian
cultural norms of modesty, humility and restraint.
Studies 2a and 2b found that for both Americans and East Asians,
the expansive-hands-spread-on-desk and expansive-upright-sitting
poses led to greater feelings of power (e.g., in charge, powerful,
dominant, etc.) than those evoked by constricted postures.
Study 3 found that the expansive-feet-on-desk pose led to
greater feelings of power and implicit activation of power-related
concepts for Americans, but not for East Asians.
Study 4 found that compared to a constricted posture, the
expansive feet-on-desk pose led to greater risk-taking among
Americans, but not among East Asians. Specifically, after holding
the posture for three minutes, American participants were more
likely to choose to take action to deal with a problem or situation
presented to them, whereas this posture did not have the same
effect on East Asian participants.
“Overall, these findings suggest that expansive postures
have both universal and culturally specific effects on
people’s thoughts, feelings and behavior,” says
“Some postures, such as the expansive-hands-spread-on-desk
and expansive-upright-sitting poses, “she says, “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
“It is the symbolic meaning of a posture,” Park
says, “rather than the posture itself, that influences the
psychological experiences of individuals from different