Thesis defense

The influence of bodily actions on social perception and behaviour: Assessing effects of power postures

Practical information
13 December 2018

ENS, salle 236, 24 rue Lhomond, 75005 Paris


Jury : 
- Roland Imhoff (rapporteur)
- Yann Coello (rapporteur)
- Nathalie George (examinatrice)
- Julie Grèzes (directrice de thèse)

Abstract :
Expansive and constrictive body postures serve a primary communicative function in humans and other animals by signalling power and dominance. Whether adopting such “power postures” influences the agent’s own perception and behaviour is currently a subject of debate. In this PhD thesis, I therefore explored effects of adopting power postures on behaviours closely related to the postures’ primary function of social signalling by focusing on responses to faces as particularly salient social signals. In a series of experiments, I utilized reverse correlation methods to visualize mental representations of preferred facial traits. Mental representations of implicitly as well as explicitly preferred faces evoked an affiliative and slightly dominant impression, but revealed no replicable effects of power postures. Two further separate experiments investigated posture effects on the perception of threatening facial expressions, and approach vs. avoidance actions in response to such social signals. While postures did not influence explicit recognition of threatening facial expressions, they affected approach and avoidance actions in response to them. Specifically, adopting a constrictive posture increased the tendency to avoid angry individuals. Finally, an attempt to replicate posture effects on levels of testosterone and cortisol demonstrated that even repeatedly adopting a power posture in a social context does not elicit hormonal changes. Altogether, these findings suggest that our body posture does not influence our mental representations and perception of other people’s faces per se, but could influence our actions in responses to social signals.