confidence photoAt some point, we’ve all been told to sit up straight in our chairs. The usual reason given is that it is better for our posture. Yet research from Ohio State University shows that our posture might not be the only thing that shows improvement when we sit up straight.

Recruiting 71 students, Ohio State researchers told the participants that they would be taking part in two separate studies at the same time, one organized by the business school – investigating factors related to job satisfaction and professional performance – and one by the arts school – examining factors contributing to people’s acting abilities, in this case, the ability to maintain a specific posture while engaging in other activities.

Next, participants were seated at a computer terminal and instructed to either “sit up straight” and “push out [their] chest” or “sit slouched forward” with their “face looking at [their] knees.”

While holding their posture, students listed either three positive or three negative personal traits relating to future professional performance on the job, and then took a survey in which they rated themselves on how well they would do as a future professional employee.

The results were fascinating.

Just how the participants rated themselves as future professionals depended on which posture they held as they wrote the positive or negative traits. When holding an upright posture, students rated themselves according to the traits that they had written down. If they had written positive traits about themselves, they rated themselves more highly, and if they wrote negative traits about themselves, they rated themselves lower. Yet if they had been slumped over when writing the traits they were less convinced by what they had written – regardless of whether the traits had been positive or negative (Brinol, Petty, & Wagner, 2009).

“Their (participants) confident, upright posture gave them more confidence in their own thoughts, whether they were positive or negative,” (Petty, 2009).

Along the same lines, earlier research conducted at San Francisco State University demonstrated a connection between posture and positive thoughts. In this study, Erik Peper, a professor of holistic health, teamed with sports psychologist Vietta Wilson to examine the relationship between holding either a slumped pose or an upright pose for one minute each, and the ease with which subjects could recall positive memories or events from their past. When holding an upright pose, the majority of subjects – 92 percent – found it easier to recall optimistic, happy thoughts and memories (Wilson & Peper, 2004).

The work of Petty and his colleagues moved beyond the relationship between posture and positive thoughts to show that it isn’t simply that we have more positive thoughts – or write more positive traits – when sitting upright and have more negative thoughts when slouched over, it is that the confidence in our thoughts follows a clear pattern – in line with our posture. In effect, sitting up straight makes us believe our thoughts – positive or negative – with greater conviction. Lead researcher Richard Petty explains,

“Most of us were taught that sitting up straight gives a good impression to other people. But it turns out that our posture can also affect how we think about ourselves. If you sit up straight, you end up convincing yourself by the posture you’re in” (Petty, 2009).

So what’s the takeaway? Not only do we find it easier to think and recall positive traits and thoughts about ourselves when we are in a powerful posture, but, perhaps more importantly, we are whole lot more likely to believe these thoughts when adopting a posture that compliments them.


Brinol, P., Petty, R., Wagner, B. (2009). Body posture effects on self-evaluation: A self-validation approach. European Journal of Social Psychology, 39, 1053-1064

Wilson, V., Peper, E. (2004). The effects of upright and slumped posture on the recall of positive and negative thoughts. Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, 29, 189-195.