Schreiber Science

Rachel Kogan, Copy Editor Emerita

You stand outside the door, slouching, rubbing your clammy hands on your new dress pants, praying that you do not mess up. Quickly, you whisper under your breath, “Hello, my name is… pleasure to meet you too. Um, thank you,” and smile weakly. You look at your watch; it is 2:59 and just about time for your interview.
One’s confidence during an interview is in part based on the way the body secretes two hormones: testosterone and cortisol (a stress hormone). Alpha males tend to secrete high quantities of testosterone and low amounts of cortisol, thus enabling them to appear more confident in stressful situations. This same hormone pattern was identified in more outgoing humans by social psychologist Amy Cuddy, an Associate Professor of Business Administration at Harvard University.
As part of her research with stress hormones, Cuddy devised an experiment to see how humans can trick their bodies to produce more or less of these hormones. In this experiment, one group of participants was told to sit in “low power poses” or slouched positions that made them appear more closed off.
The other group was told to sit in “high power poses,” standing up with their arms in a “Y” above their heads or generally spreading out as much as they could in their seats.
The inspiration for these high power poses stemmed from the primitive instinct of many animals to expand in size or appear to take up more space in threatening situations. Animals that do this seem dominant and confident to their predators and successfully decrease the chance of being consumed.
Each participant was forced to hold his or her position for two minutes and then immediately walk into a five minute interview in which the interviewer purposefully did not smile or react in any way to any of the interviewees words in order to make the situation more stressful. After the participants were thoroughly tortured by this highly unusual and uncomfortable interaction, their hormone levels were tested.
Cuddy’s experiment showed that those who sat in the low power poses experienced a 10% decrease in testosterone and 15% increase in cortisol, making them less active and more susceptible to stress. By contrast, those who sat in high power poses experienced a 20% increase in testosterone and 10% decrease in cortisol, making them more active and less susceptible to stress.
When business owners and internship officers, analyzed video footage of these interviews (without the knowledge of who sat in which pose), they primarily chose those who sat in the high power positions as people they would most likely hire. Their explanation was that they seemed more confident and had a more engaging presence.
So the next time you have an interview, whether it be for a job or for college, run into the bathroom a few minutes in advance, stand up, and take up space like a cobra ready to pounce. Go attack that interview with your mighty presence.