Thursday, April 26, 2012

Friday Fun: Mad Men With Power Moves

When Mad Men started it's final fifth season on AMC, I received a good laugh when I was alerted to the hashtag #draping. The lead character of Mad Men, Don Draper (Jon Hamm), is pictured in advertisements for the popular television show sitting on a couch with his hand draped over the back of the couch, holding either a cigarette or a cocktail. It appears that fans of the popular show have taken to posing in this fashion, and then posting to tumblr.

Whenever I see these #draping photos I tend to think about a now classic study of dominance and submissive postural stances conducted by Larisa Tiedens of Stanford University. In the research, Tiedens and Fragle (2003) sought to determine whether people take on dominant or submissive postural stances, when reacting to the dominant or submissive posture of others. Would people pose dominantly when faced with other dominant postures, thereby escalating a competition for status within an interaction? Or alternatively, would people take on submissive postures when faced with dominance, to diffuse possible tension in the interaction?

The studies themselves were brilliantly constructed: In my favorite, participants came to the experiment and had an interaction with a partner who was an experiment confederate. The confederate posed throughout the experiment in either a dominant or submissive posture. Dominance looks basically like #draping, whereas the submissive posture involves pulling the arms inward and curling oneself into a ball while seated. Participants' postures were then recorded during the interaction.

So how did participants change their posture during the interactions? Interestingly enough, participants tended to take on complimentary postural stances in response to the posture of the confederate. That is, if the confederate sat like Don Draper, the participant took on a submissive stance. In contrast, if the confederate sat in a submissive manner, the participant sat more like this:

I may reduce my wife to tears today... again (source).

Tiedens and Fragale (2003) reason that this response is an automatic and potentially unconscious behavioral response to dominance competition. That is, when faced with clear dominance signals, people tend to behave submissively to avoid potentially aggressive and costly dominance confrontations that could result in conflict or injury. It's fascinating research, and it tells us a lot about our inherent desires to avoid situations that could put us in unnecessary conflict that could sap our metabolic resources--fighting for superiority takes energy.

Bonus: #draping plus topical

Have you ever realized your nonverbal behavior was changing to compliment that of the people around you? I'd love to hear about what made you realize this was happening!

Tiedens, L., & Fragale, A. (2003). Power moves: Complementarity in dominant and submissive nonverbal behavior. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 84 (3), 558-568 DOI: 10.1037//0022-3514.84.3.558


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. (Reposting my comment because I signed it wrong) Minor nitpick...Mad Men is contracted to last two more seasons. This isn't the final season.

    The findings of the complementary postures are surprising, but they do make sense.

  3. It will be really interesting to explore the underlying (most likely unconscious) motivation of the complementary postures. Altering the goal of the interaction to see how cooperative and competitive goals affect this process comes to mind. Also, it is fun to imagine someone really high on personality trait to step into a room and find another person sitting like Don Draper.