Conference Presentation | 21 Jun 2012 - 24 Jun 2012

Visual Attention to Power Posers: People Avert their Gaze from Nonverbal Displays of Power

by Elizabeth Baily Wolf


Existing literature suggests that people visually attend more to powerful/high-status people. However, previous studies manipulated target power/status via the target’s role (e.g., CEO or judge vs. mechanic or fry cook) or clothing (e.g., business suit vs. sweat suit). We hypothesized that power posing—adopting open, expansive postures, such as standing with feet apart and hand on hips—would actually elicit the opposite response: people will avert their gaze from high-power (vs. low-power) posers, deferring to their perceived authority and avoiding confrontation, a finding that would be consistent with the literature on non-human animal hierarchies. In a 2 (target power pose: high, low) X 2 (target gender: male, female) between-subjects design, participants (N = 81) were randomly assigned to view a series of photographs of either a White man or a White woman in a series of high or low power poses. Poses varied on the two nonverbal dimensions directly linked with power: expansiveness (i.e., the amount of space taken up) and openness (i.e., limbs open or closed). Each participant’s gaze behavior was recorded using an eyetracker, with a sampling rate of 60 Hz and a screen resolution of 1280 x 1024 pixels. As expected, participants looking at high-power posing targets averted their gaze from these targets (to the background of the photo) compared to participants looking at low-power posing targets. Moreover, this relationship was mediated via perceived power. The findings suggest that the way in which power is communicated—role vs. nonverbal display—can shape the course of an interaction, influencing the extent to which people do or do not visually attend to one another.

Keywords: Nonverbal Communication; Behavior; Rank and Position; Emotions; Power and Influence;


Wolf, Elizabeth Baily. "Visual Attention to Power Posers: People Avert their Gaze from Nonverbal Displays of Power." Paper presented at the 9th Biennial Conference of the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues, Charlotte, NC, United States, June 21–24, 2012.