Picture Power: Gender Versus Body Language in Perceived Status

Abstract

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.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    This effect size was computed from the alternate statistic f 2 = 0.35 in the program G-star power.

  2. 2.

    With one being low V, four being neutral, and seven being high V, low V poses were rated respectively: 2.38, 1.50, 2.50, 4.38, and 3.38. The italicized score is what caused that pose and its high V counterpart to be discarded. High V poses were rated respectively: 5.13, 5.38, 6.50, 5.88, 6.25.

  3. 3.

    The EEG was sampled at 250 Hz using a band-pass filler of 0.1–30 Hz, and impedances were kept below 40 kΩ (the Geonet system uses high-impedance amplifiers). The ERPs were vertex referenced for recording and average referenced for analysis and presentation. Following re-referencing, the brain waves were baseline corrected to a 100-ms prestimulus window. Eye artifacts during data collection were monitored with four EOG electrodes, with voltage shifts above 70 µV marked as bad (for more on the EOG algorithm, see Gratton et al. 1983; Miller et al. 1988). Non-EOG channels were marked as bad if there were shifts within the electrode of greater than 200 µV for any single trial. If over 20 % of the channels were bad for a trial, the whole trial was rejected. Considering all of the participants, 8.31 % (SD = 6.79 %) of the trials were rejected; after removing one participant for excessive artifacts (26.34 %), 7.49 % (SD = 5.67 %) of the trials were rejected.

  4. 4.

    The 128 electrodes were broken up into five clusters of channels that corresponded roughly to basic anatomical structures of the brain (Kelly et al. 2004).

  5. 5.

    All reported error rate means and standard deviations are the untransformed values. Analyses were conducted on transformed values, according to the arcsine of the square root function, as is appropriate for proportions (Sokal and Rohlf 2012).

  6. 6.

    It is not unprecedented to discover behavioral effects but not the expected N400 effect. See Brown and Hagoort (1993) for an example and Holcomb et al. (2005) for a more nuanced interpretation.

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Acknowledgments

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.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Bailey, A.H., Kelly, S.D. Picture Power: Gender Versus Body Language in Perceived Status. J Nonverbal Behav 39, 317–337 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10919-015-0212-x

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Keywords

  • Gender
  • Power
  • Pose
  • Body language
  • Dominance