Does Posture Affect Self-Esteem?

It’s time to straighten up. Slouching isn’t only bad for the back, but can also hurt self-confidence.

Hunching over might seem easier— it’s hard to stay upright all day!— but besides looking sloppy, research suggests bad posture might also affect self-confidence The effects of upright and slumped postures on the recall of positive and negative thoughts. Wilson, VE, Peper E. Department of Kinesiology and Health Science, York University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback 2004 Sept; 29 (3): 189-95. Powerful postures versus powerful roles: which is the proximate correlate of thought and behavior?Huang, L., Galinsky A.D., Gruenfeld D.H., Guillory L.E. Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA. Psychological Science 2011 Jan 1; 22 (1): 95-102.. So pull those shoulders back and lift that chin to ward off back pain— and feel a boost in self-love.

Straight Talk — Why It Matters

Many of us spend hours every day sitting, and slouching over a desk can put extra pressure on the spine while contributing to chronic pain and weakening chest muscles. But beyond the physical harms of slouching, studies suggest bad posture can actually affect how people view themselves, and those with upright posture are more easily able to recall positive thoughts and tend to have a stronger self-image— not to mention stronger spines The effects of upright and slumped postures on the recall of positive and negative thoughts. Wilson, VE, Peper E. Department of Kinesiology and Health Science, York University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback 2004 Sept; 29 (3): 189-95. Powerful postures versus powerful roles: which is the proximate correlate of thought and behavior? Huang, L., Galinsky A.D., Gruenfeld D.H., Guillory L.E. Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA. Psychological Science 2011 Jan 1; 22 (1): 95-102..

One study had some subjects sit up and straight and push their chest forward, while others were told to slouch and look down at their knees. When asked to rate themselves as future professionals, those sitting upright were significantly more likely to express a positive opinion of their prospects (likely no small feat in this economy). Other research has linked sitting or standing with expansive posture (wide open and tall) with personal feelings of power, confidence in decision making, and control Powerful postures versus powerful roles: which is the proximate correlate of thought and behavior? Huang, L., Galinsky A.D., Gruenfeld D.H., Guillory L.E. Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA. Psychological Science 2011 Jan 1; 22 (1): 95-102..

Get Up, Stand Up... Tall — The Answer/Debate

But while some studies suggest correlation between posture and a higher confidence level, popping out the chest won’t necessarily bring out the best in everyone. And while it’s been suggested that better posture’s effects might come from reducing stress hormones, recent research indicates this is anything but a guarantee The awakening cortisol response: no evidence for an influence of body posture. Hucklebridge, F., Mellins, J., Evans P., Clow A. Psychophysiology and Stress Research Group, Department of Biomedical Sciences, University of Westminster, 115, New Cavendish Street, W1M 8JS, London, UK. Life Sciences 2002 Jun 28; 71 (6): 639-46..

While having good posture is no cure-all for self-esteem issues, it’s certainly not a bad place to start. Performing some simple stretches and exercises every day can help promote better posture while sitting or standing. Losing the chair during the workday might also help alleviate some slouching-induced symptoms (including that poor self-image).

Illustration by Elaine Liu

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