Powerful posture and the role of gender stereotypes : where is power expression derived from?

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Letters & Science


What makes a person feel powerful? Embodiment scholars assert power arises when the body assumes a powerful, expansive position. The goal of this thesis was to examine how an expansive body position activates feelings of power. I draw from three theoretical perspectives to make predictions about the manifestations of power as a function of body position. The theory of self-perception predicts that power can be embodied and the body influences the mind's perception of feelings of power. Stereotype assimilation theory also predicts that an expansive position increases feelings of power, but indirectly via concept activation. An expansive position likely activates the concept of masculinity, and when activated, masculinity increases powerful expressions. An expansive position is considered a masculine one, and the power of an expansive position could be explained by activation of the masculine stereotype. Role congruity theory adds that, to the extent power is part of the masculine role, men, but not women, will express power. Women should be less likely to express power when sitting expansively and when doing so should report an elevated fear of "backlash." The reported experiment tested these three theories by randomly assigning participants to one of three body position conditions and one of two masculine priming conditions in a 3(body position) X 2(masculine priming) X 2 (gender) between subjects design. The experiment measured action-taking, risk-taking, pain tolerance, self-reported power, fear of backlash, and implicit power activation. Results failed to replicate past embodiment research; body position did not significantly influence the expression of power. There was marginal support for masculine concept activation and variations by participant gender affecting power expressions, although no consistent pattern emerged. The null finding for body position, however, suggests self-perception theory's explanation of power expression may be limited to very specific experimental circumstances and are not generalizable. Further research is necessary to determine if power is truly embodied and if effects seen in past research are misattributions of masculine stereotype activation and the extent to which fear of backlash moderates or mediates expression of power.




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