Yes, “power pose” study is flawed, but shouldn’t be retracted, says one author

psychological-scienceAfter the first author of a debated study about the benefits of positioning your body in an assertive ways — the so-called “power pose” — posted her concerns about the research, she has told us she does not believe the paper should be retracted.

As reported by New York magazine, late last night, the first author of a 2010 paper in Psychological Science posted a statement saying she no longer believes the effects of the “power pose” are real.

We contacted Dana Carney, now based at the University of California, Berkeley, to ask if she thought the next step would be to retract the paper. She told us:

The work was conducted in good faith based on phenomena thought to be true at the time—the facial feedback hypothesis. At the time the procedures were acceptable in the field. The data are real. It is an effect that doesn’t replicate. And as the evidence against the effect mounted, I updated my beliefs. It seems like this is the nature of good science and I am glad we know the effect is not likely real so that folks don’t spend precious time on it. Retractions seem appropriate for fake data or otherwise falsified analysis. Neither of these criteria apply in this case. A retraction doesn’t seem like the appropriate course of action.

We have seen cases where authors have retracted papers when they could not replicate the results. And Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) specifies that journals should consider retracting a paper if:

…they have clear evidence that the findings are unreliable, either as a result of misconduct (e.g. data fabrication) or honest error (e.g. miscalculation or experimental error)

The concept of “power poses” has taken off in recent years. As New York magazine notes about co-author Amy Cuddy at Harvard:

Her TED talk on the subject has racked up 36 million views, making it one of the most-watched TED talks of all time, and she commands hefty speaking fees giving addresses about the benefits and underlying science of power poses.

But the phenomenon has been under debate for some time, questioned earlier this year on Slate by Andrew Gelman and Kaiser Fung (Gelman also mentioned it briefly in a post on our site).

Yesterday, Carney decided to take her concerns public, noting:

The evidence against the existence of power poses is undeniable.

She explains in more detail:

Any work done in my lab on the embodied effects of power poses was conducted long ago (while still at Columbia University from 2008-2011) – well before my views updated. And so while it may seem I continue to study the phenomenon, those papers (emerging in 2014 and 2015) were already published or were on the cusp of publication as the evidence against power poses began to convince me that power poses weren’t real. My lab is conducting no research on the embodied effects of power poses…I continue to be a reviewer on failed replications and re-analyses of the data — signing my reviews as I did in the Ranehill et al. (2015) case — almost always in favor of publication (I was strongly in favor in the Ranehill case). More failed replications are making their way through the publication process. We will see them soon.

The statement also details some methodological notes about the 2010 paper, such as a small sample size a “flimsy” data:

The effects are small and barely there in many cases.

We will update this post if we hear back from other relevant parties, such as the journal.

Update 9/26/16 5:37 p.m. eastern: We’ve heard from Stephen Lindsay, editor of the journal:

At present I do not plan to pursue retraction of the Carney et al. article.  I am aware of Dana Carney’s recent post expressing her disbelief in “power posing” and I am keeping that and other input regarding the Carney et al. article in mind.  My impression is that evidence for the claims made in Carney et al. is weak, but that in itself does not in my view warrant retraction.

Update 9/27/16 10:17 a.m. eastern: We’ve heard from Andrew Gelman about Carney’s statement:

I think it’s a great step forward when people are willing to reconsider their published research in light of methodological and empirical criticism.

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7 thoughts on “Yes, “power pose” study is flawed, but shouldn’t be retracted, says one author”

  1. It’s fascinating to read Carney’s brave document, listing all of the (what we would now call) questionable research practices in this study, and then to re-read Simmons et al.’s “False Positive Psychology” from 2011, especially Table 3 where the authors reveal what really happened in their study. It seems that Carney et al. had it all: optional stopping, p-values rounded down, selective exclusion of outliers, and selective reporting of dependent variables.

  2. Hats off to Dana Carney for responding to (and reviewing) contrary evidence the correct way, and for coming out publicly with her current position.

  3. Doesn’t take much bravery to not even retract a flawed publication many years after they’ve already gotten tenure and other recognition as a result of their hyped up and flawed publication.

  4. The headline here is misleading. The author says she doesn’t believe the effect is real, not that the study is flawed. She identifies a few problems with the way the experiment was run, but they seem minor to me, and given the press coverage on this (and the fact that she has an additional 5 years of experience to become a better scientist) it doesn’t surprise me she has a few regrets.

    If a systematic review of literature shows an effect does/doesn’t exist, do we then insist that all studies which showed it doesn’t/does exist be retracted? I’ve never heard anyone advocate for such a course of action, and do not think it’s appropriate.

    I think she’s doing exactly the right thing here by publishing her full opinion on both the original study and the overall topic itself.

  5. I watched the Ted talk on power poses, felt too god to be true. Yet many people buy it, prove psychology is a feel good science.

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