While research on “power posing” is still controversial, it’s not controversial to say that one’s posture changes how they are perceived.
Previous research has shown repeatedly that “stronger postures,” which include uprightness, expansiveness, and closeness to others, convey strength, dominance, and confidence.
“Weaker postures” convey the opposite.
It’s also not controversial to say that how people dress matters.
Previous research has shown repeatedly that dressing formally vs. casually has many impacts on a person’s perceived professionalism, competence, and confidence.
So, what about when these two things intersect?
What happens when a casually-dressed person stands confidently, vs. a smartly-dressed person with a poor or weaker posture?
Enter five researchers from the University of Hertfordshire, UK. They wanted to see whether posture could make up for casual dressing, or whether poor posture could hurt a person even if they are dressed well.
Their research was published in the British Journal of Psychology in 2017.
The researchers had a couple hypotheses for this study.
First, they hypothesized that people who dress casually would receive a big boost in perceived positive traits from having confident posture. However, they hypothesized that people who are dressed well already have a boost, so posture wasn’t going to a yield a much stronger boost.
In other words, posture will be a bigger boost for casual dressers than formal dressers.
Second, they hypothesized that clothing will matter much more for women than men.
This won’t be the focus of this write-up, but I’ll include the results for completeness’ sake.
The researchers recruited 106 adults who were around 30 years old.
They included a variety of ethnic origins and both men and women.
Then, they showed these participants some prepared photographs.
The photographs were pictures of various models in a few combinations of posing and dressing:
- Standing vs sitting
- Strong posing (confident, erect, showing coolness) vs. neutral posing (an average, comfortable pose) vs. weak posing (closed in, slumped over)
- Dressed casually (track pants, sweatshirt) vs. dressed sharply (business suit)
For instance, a model could be sitting confidently with legs up on table and hands behind head, and dressed casually (sitting, strong posing, casual), or standing weakly with a business suit on (standing, weak posing, sharp dressing).
After they took the photographs, they used a focus group with ratings to make sure that the poses were giving off the desired message. They only used the photographs that communicated the desired messages (confidence, casual dress, etc.).
Participants in the main study were shown all 60 photographs in random order and then asked to rate each one in four main factors:
- High salary
All four factors were added together to create a single “Competency” score.
- Men with suits were rated as significantly more competent than those in casual dress.
- Men with stronger poses were rated as significantly more competent than those with weaker poses.
- For casually-dressed men, having a strong pose was rated as highest of all.
- However, for well-dressed men, a neutral pose was rated as the most competent of all.
- Same thing – for well-dressed women, neutral poses were rated as the most competent of all.
- For casually-dressed women, strong and neutral poses were rated as most competent.
- These results seem to contradict intuition and previous research, but there are some reasons why this effect was found.
- It could be that when a man is dressed sharply, if they move their bodies in extra confident poses, they look like they’re “overdoing it.”
- You may even look like you’re overcompensating.
- By contrast, men with real power don’t need to overcompensate or overdo it. They’re already dressed well, so why go overboard?
- In these causes, men can just stand or sit comfortably and naturally, and they will appear confident.
- If so, the researchers suggest that for well-dressed men, recommending that they take powerful postures might be bad advice. Just act naturally.
This study suggests that poor posture really does cause a person to look less trustworthy, approachable, wealthy, and confident.
It also suggests that casual dress has a similar negative effect.
However, it also suggests that you can increase perceptions of your competence in the following ways:
- If you’re dressed casually – pay attention to your body and using powerful gestures and posture.
- Wear sharp clothing.
However, if you’re already wearing sharp clothing, DON’T OVERDO IT. Just act comfortable and natural.
Gurney, D. J., Howlett, N., Pine, K., Tracey, M., & Moggridge, R. (2017). Dressing up posture: The interactive effects of posture and clothing on competency judgments. British Journal of Psychology, 108, 436-451. Link: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com