Journal of Nonverbal Behavior

, Volume 39, Issue 4, pp 317–337 | Cite as

Picture Power: Gender Versus Body Language in Perceived Status

  • April H. BaileyEmail author
  • Spencer D. Kelly
Original Paper


Power hierarchies in interaction are maintained due to a variety of cues, including gender and body language, and can keep competent individuals from being regarded as high status. The present study primed participants with an image consisting of two components—gender (man or woman) and body pose (dominant or submissive)—and then asked participants to classify written target words as either dominant or submissive. In response to these target words, we measured accuracy (% incorrect) and classification speed (RT), in addition to event-related potentials (ERPs), from 23 participants. Although we did not find ERP differences in the predicted N400 component, error rate and RT measures indicated that regardless of the gender of the prime, dominant poses facilitated identification of dominant words. Interestingly, whereas female submissive posing facilitated classification of submissive target words, male submissive posing did not. These results support the idea that women can use counter-stereotypical nonverbal displays, dominant poses, to change how they are initially perceived in terms of power. Interestingly, men may be more limited in the success of their counter-stereotypical, submissive, posing. Potential underlying mechanisms are discussed.


Gender Power Pose Body language Dominance 



The authors would like to thank the Psychology Department at Colgate University for allowing them access to their facilities to run the experiment, Dr. Carrie Keating for her intellectual contributions, Timothy Collett for his technical assistance, and research assistant Rachel Goldberg for her professionalism and organization.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Colgate University, Department of PsychologyHamiltonUSA
  2. 2.Yale University, Department of PsychologyNew HavenUSA

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