So-called “power posing” could backfire if you’re seeking a donation. New research in Evolution and Human Behavior indicates that expansive postural displays — like standing up straight with your shoulders pushed back — can dissuade charitable giving.
“We have studied nonverbal displays of pride and high rank in my lab for some time now (for example, see here, here, and here) and this is a topic covered heavily in my book, Pride: The Secret of Success,” said study author Jessica L. Tracy, a psychology professor at the University of British Columbia.
The study examined the micro-lending charity website Kiva, which allows individuals to lend money interest-free to low-income entrepreneurs and students.
“The opportunity to examine how these displays might influence charitable donations in a real-world context was very appealing,” Tracy said. “There were good reasons to expect both greater altruism in response to pride displays (because pride conveys competence, and highly competent receivers are more likely to repay debts) and less altruism in response (because models of reciprocal altruism suggest that altruists should be biased, in general, to give to needier recipients – and those who convey competence are likely to be less needy).”
“So testing these competing hypotheses in the real-world situation of donations to a micro-lending charity was very exciting.”
The researchers examined 158 profile pictures on the website, and found that chest expansion negatively predicted the amount of money received. A replication of the study, which examined another 228 profiles, confirmed the results.
In other words, people requesting money who had a more expanded posture tended to receive less money.
Tracy and her colleagues also found that immediately successful loan requesters displayed less chest expansion than requesters who remained unsuccessful throughout the loan period.
“Individuals who have already decided to be altruistic – who are looking to be generous and help others – tend to prefer recipients who convey nonverbal signals of need rather than those who convey nonverbal signals of competence,” Tracy told PsyPost.
The researchers also found the link between expansive postural displays and reduced donations was most pronounced for male requesters.
But some things are still unclear.
“One thing we don’t know is whether altruists were in fact aware of the nonverbal cues that we found to guide their behaviour,” Tracy explained. “Our research was correlational, so although we found a robust relation across 3 studies, and this supported a pre-registered prediction, it’s entirely possible that some third factor variable was actually responsible for observed effects.
“We statistically controlled for a number of likely culprits (e.g., gender, country, attractiveness), but there are likely to be other factors we missed.”
“I think this research helps address a longstanding question in research on altruism,” Tracy added. “While theories have suggested that altruists might seek to give to highly competent recipients, our findings suggest that, at least for people who have already made the decision to give, this is not the case – nonverbal signals of high rank, power, or competence reduced the amount of financial aid needy individuals receive.”
The study, “The financial cost of status signaling: Expansive postural displays are associated with a reduction in the receipt of altruistic donations“, was authored by Jessica L. Tracy, Conor M. Steckler, Daniel Randles, and Eric Mercadante.