This article appears in October Family magazine.
Mom wanted the best for you when she advised, “Don’t slouch; sit up tall.” Good posture can be empowering.
For students who have test anxiety, simply sitting up straight can positively affect their performance, according to a new study by researchers at San Francisco State University.
Posture can aid in performance for people who anticipate doing poorly or “blanking out” on a math exam or in other pursuits, such as speaking in public or playing sports or music, said Erik Peper, a professor of holistic health at San Francisco State.
If you change your posture you can change your presence, Peper said. If you stand tall, not only will others see you as empowered but you will perceive yourself to be empowered, too.
“Pay attention; shift your intention,” said Richard Harvey, associate professor of holistic health at San Francisco State.
About the study
As part of the small study, 125 college students were tested to see how well they could perform simple math — subtracting 7 from 843 sequentially for 15 seconds — while either slumped over or sitting up straight with shoulders back and relaxed. Fifty-six percent of the students reported finding it easier to perform the math in the upright position. The study was not a math ability test.
While many students feel anxious before tests, 32 percent report “severe test anxiety, fear of math and blanking out on exams while less than 10 percent report minimal test anxiety, fear of math and blanking out on exams,” Harvey said.
The upright head and erect posture only helps those who are anxious or fearful of blanking out, the study found. For the students in the study who reported the lowest test anxiety and math difficulty, there was no significant difference between slouched and erect positions in mental math performance. More importantly, students with the highest level of test anxiety rated the math task significantly more difficult in the slouched position, Peper said.
Assess your own posture
When a person feels defeated, exhausted or hopeless, he tends to slouch inward, bracing shoulders and curling in on himself, Harvey said. When a person feels optimistic or empowered he expands in space, getting taller, Peper said.
Thinking of it from an evolutionary angle, a slouched body position portrays that a person is feeling threatened, Harvey said. You’re reducing the width of the body from possible attack, he said.
Many people are unaware of how they carry themselves, especially as they walk around with mobile phones stuck to the sides of their heads, Harvey said. Their body position is sending a message to the brain. This defensive posture can trigger negative memories in both the body and the brain, Harvey said.
This positive posture approach can work for anyone who anticipates something will be difficult or challenging, Peper said.
Interested in changing your posture? Train yourself to stand up tall, Peper said. It sound easy, but it’s hard to change habits, Harvey said. If you slouch while sitting at the computer or while studying, adjust your workstation so the computer screen is at eye level. Invest in tech like Upright Go, a wearable device that vibrates whenever a person slouches.