Standing tall makes you feel strong, confident and less likely to feel pain, according to new research from Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.
“It’s the same idea as, if you smile, you’ll feel happier,” says researcher Vanessa Bohns, now a professor of management at the University of Waterloo.
The study by Bohns and Scott Wiltermuth from the University of Southern California will appear the peer-reviewed print Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.
Dominant postures like standing up straight or with feet wide apart increase testosterone in both women and men, and decrease cortisol, a stress-related hormone. Assuming a dominant stance signals you own the space around you, says Bohns.
“It’s an evolutionary thing, you see monkeys doing it,” says Bohns. “People who are more dominant, people who are more in control, people who are more powerful tend to take up more space.”
Her research indicates the relationship goes both ways: Not only do dominant people adopt dominant postures; adopting a dominant posture can make you feel powerful and in control, and feeling more powerful and in control is linked to feeling less pain.
Bohns and her fellow researcher told 45 men and 44 women they were participating in a study about the health benefits of exercise at work. They were asked to adopt yoga poses ranging from a submissive, kneeling pose to the warrior pose — standing with legs apart and arms spread wide.
Their ability to tolerate pain was measured before and after adopting the yoga poses, using a blood pressure cuff on their arms. They were instructed to say stop when they experienced discomfort. Those who had adopted expansive yoga postures were able to tolerate significantly more pain.
The research also showed that when presented with a person who assumes a dominant position; people reflexively assume a more submissive posture, in order to avoid conflict.
Psychology aside, correct posture has a direct impact on well-being, according to kinesiologist Craig Kipling, the principal ergonomics consultant at Healthy Posture Inc.
“Posture affects nerve stimulation, the circulation of blood, the lymphatic system. Once you’re in awkward postures, you compromise those three things and it leads to discomfort – pain, aching, throbbing.
“Posture has a huge impact on every-day life.”