Science of Sex
Two Minutes to Higher T?
Two Men, Two Rooms
A man is told to stand alone in a room by a table. He's instructed to stand in a very specific way. He's given a task to perform. The task is meaningless; the way he's required to stand is not.
After just a couple of minutes, the man begins to feel more powerful and dominant. He feels like taking a risk. He's suddenly horny. His testosterone levels have, in fact, doubled. (Time, November, 2010)
Another man in another room is part of the same experiment. He's not feeling well. He feels weak and submissive; stressed and powerless. And he doesn't really know why.
The researchers do. It's because they required him to stand in a "low-power" stance. Consequently, his testosterone levels took a dive.
Is this real science or science fiction?
Unleash Your Alpha Male
This is what you know: Body language affects how you feel and the image you project to others. Stand or sit like a dominant alpha male and you'll feel more powerful and even appear more attractive to women.
This is what you don't know: A new study has shown that this isn't merely cognitive. It's more than a feeling; there are actual neuroendocrine effects: namely, boosts in testosterone and drops in cortisol. (Carney, et al.)
Since high T and low C translate into more muscle and better performances in the gym, does that mean you can change your body language and more easily build your ultimate body?
Let's unpack the science.
Bigger is Better
Power. Dominance. Control. Strength. In the animal kingdom, bigger is better.
As researchers noted in this new study, the chimpanzee will hold his breath and expand his chest when facing down a foe. Cats will charge at an opponent sideways in order to appear larger.
Human alpha males do the same thing. Researchers call it an open, expansive posture. Even while sitting, a powerful, high-T human will naturally take up more space and use "bigger" body positions: hands behind the head, arms and legs opened, etc.
Low-power, low-T humans do the opposite, adopting instead closed, contractive body positions: arms and legs close together, shoulders slumped, making the body appear smaller, taking up less space.
But what if researchers took regular people and posed them in dominant, high-T postures? What if they told them they were studying something else and the participants didn't even know they were being placed in "power postures"? Would they still feel more powerful? And, most importantly, would their testosterone levels actually rise?
The answer is yes.
The human lab rats in this study (26 female, 16 male) were randomly assigned to the high-power-pose or low-power-pose groups. Each participant held two poses for one minute each.
Saliva samples were used to test testosterone and cortisol levels before, and about 17 minutes after, the power-pose manipulation. Participants then self-reported feelings of power and were given a simulated gambling test to measure risk-taking behaviors, which are associated with high testosterone.
But how much of a testosterone boost are we talking about? How much of a cortisol decrease?
"Examining the data, it looks like the testosterone increase was around 14-19%. The cortisol decrease was 23-25%," notes Dr. Tim Ziegenfuss. "These are estimates since the actual data were not reported. (The authors gave changes from baseline.) The testosterone increase is pretty paltry; the cortisol decrease is nothing to get excited about."
The study's lead author is a little more excited: "These findings suggest that, in some situations requiring power, people have the ability to 'fake it 'til they make it.' Over time and in aggregate, these minimal postural changes and their outcomes potentially could improve a person's general health and well-being."
Should You "Power Pose" More?
So, is adopting high-power body language going to help you get buff? Does ILS – Imaginary Lat Syndrome – really lead to a bigger lat spread?
Maybe. It certainly can't hurt. Even if the physiological changes are minimal, the psychological implications could produce a more profound effect: you'll feel more powerful, lift more weight, train harder, and thus get more results in the gym.
The effects of power posing certainly aren't steroidal, but if you can trigger a positive shift in hormone levels (for free, no less) and give off a more attractive, confident vibe to that Lululemon-clad hottie with the yoga-butt, then hey, why not?
Dr. Ziegenfuss, party pooper that he is, notes that the legal testosterone booster, Alpha Male could easily increase T twice as much, if not more, than so-called "power posing."
Still, it's interesting, and it may be worth doing before a PR attempt or competition. Combined with a good T-booster, these postural changes and mind-over-matter effects may indeed lead to more muscle gain and easier fat loss over time.
But if all it does is make you more attractive to women, well, that's not so bad either.
Dana R. Carney1, Amy J.C. Cuddy2, and Andy J. Yap1, Power Posing: Brief Nonverbal Displays Affect Neuroendocrine. Download the full PDF here.
Cloud, Time, November, 2010. "Strike a Pose".