Your Mother Was Right: Good Posture Is Important

woman sitting at desk
A person's posture can influence their pain tolerance threshold, a new study shows. (Image credit: dreamstime)

Poor posture doesn't just make a bad first impression — it can actually make you feel more pain. In a new study, people who slouched when sitting or standing had an increased sensitivity to pain.

First, researchers told 89 participants to maintain one of two stances: either a dominant posture, including sitting or standing up straight, pushing out their chest and expanding their body; or a submissive stance, such as slouching while standing with legs crossed or arms crossed at their chest.

The researchers then put a blood-pressure cuff on each participant. As the cuff was inflated at a fixed rate, participants were instructed to say "Stop" when they experienced discomfort from the pressure and the reduced blood flow.

Those who used the most dominant posture were able to comfortably handle more pain than those assigned a more neutral or submissive stance.

By simply adopting more dominant poses, people feel more powerful, in control, and able to tolerate more distress, concluded the researchers, who are from the University of Southern California's Marshall School of Business and the University of Toronto's J.L. Rotman School of Management.

Assuming a dominant pose may also help reduce the pain of remembering an emotionally distressing event such as the breakup of a romance, according to the researchers.

The study expanded on previous research that showed that adopting a powerful, expansive posture may lead to elevated testosterone, which is associated with increased pain tolerance, as well as decreased levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

Similarly, an October 2010 study conducted by Harvard Business School and Columbia University researchers showed that "high-power poses" that take up space make people feel more powerful and in charge, while constrictive postures may lower a person's sense of power and willingness to take risks.

The new findings were published in the June issue of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

You can follow LiveScience writer Remy Melina on Twitter @remymelina. Follow LiveScience for the latest in science news and discoveries on Twitter @livescience  and on Facebook.

Remy Melina was a staff writer for Live Science from 2010 to 2012. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Communication from Hofstra University where she graduated with honors.