Purveyors of self-help are constantly reminding us to be aware of our body language when meeting someone new. Recent scientific research suggests that our posture doesn’t just affect how others see us, though—it also alters how we see ourselves.
As Quartz reports, a new study published in the journal NeuroRegulation found that college students felt more comfortable and confident in their ability to answer simple math problems when they sat up straight. Of the 125 participants, 56 percent reported that it was easier to solve subtraction problems in their head while seated in an upright position as opposed to being slumped over.
This was particularly true for people who indicated in a questionnaire that they doubted their mathematic ability, according to lead author Erik Peper, a professor of health education at San Francisco State University. "For people who are anxious about math, posture makes a giant difference," Peper said in a statement. "The slumped-over position shuts them down and their brains do not work as well. They cannot think as clearly."
Researchers say this is because slumping is a “defensive posture” that can trigger negative memories—something that people with anxieties may already be sensitive to. Students’ posture affected how they felt about the math activity rather than the performance itself, but good posture could help people relax while taking tests or participating in other anxiety-inducing activities, like interviews.
Good posture could also potentially give athletes, musicians, public speakers, and other performers a confidence boost. In addition, good posture is associated with a number of other health benefits, and has been proven to be better for your muscles, joints, and ligaments. Bad posture, on the other hand, has been linked to tension headaches, back pain, reduced lung capacity, arthritic joints, digestive problems, and a slew of other ailments.
So the next time you’re feeling anxious or insecure, sit up straight and hold your head up high. There may be something to the “fake it 'til you make it” approach after all.