Posture and Mood: A Two Way Street

You may have noticed that your mood can affect your posture. For example, if you are feeling depressed, defeated, or submissive, you may slump. If you are feeling proud, confident or dominant, your chest may rise and you may get taller. So it should be obvious that your emotional state will reflect itself in your body orientation. But does this relationship work in reverse as well? In other words, is it possible that your body use or posture could affect your emotions and thoughts? The answer, based on some recent research, appears to be an unambiguous yes. Here are some recent studies that show that body use and emotion is a two-way street. One study had subjects play a betting game while sitting in two different postures. One was an open, expansive position with the limbs occupying a great deal of space, while the other was a closed, constricted posture with the limbs inward and touching the body.

The subjects with the expanded posture were more likely to take risks on two dollar 50/50 bets, and expressed a greater sense of power and control when rolling the dice. Further, the expansive group had higher testosterone and lower cortisol while competing. I will have to remember this when I go to Vegas and try to summon the hormonal fortitude to make a two dollar bet.

In a different study, students again were divided into groups sitting in expansive versus constricted postures. After participating in various tasks where they were either a manager or a subordinate, and answering various questions, the students in the expansive postures were found to be feel more confident and powerful.

These studies have some interesting implications. First, if mood can be affected by body use, then perhaps losing part of your movement ability through disuse or neglect will cause a corresponding loss of emotional flexibility or resilience. In fact, there are some interesting studies (that I will discuss in a later post) which show that botox injections paralyzing certain facial muscles will result in a diminished capacity to feel emotions expressed by contraction of those muscles.

Another take away from these studies is that changing your movement or posture is a good way to change your emotions. It is usually quite obvious to people that changing their thoughts might be a good way to change their mood. For example, people might try to combat sadness or depression by “thinking happy thoughts.” Another possible approach would be to “move happy moves.” By this logic, smiling can make you happier. Raising your chest can make you feel more confident. Exercise can make you feel more capable, alive, vital and healthy. Perhaps it can even convince your brain that things aren’t quite so bad in the body, and that less pain is necessary. As my wife the psychotherapist might say, sometimes the best plan is to “fake it till you make it.”

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