People with symptoms of depression may see temporary improvements to their mood by following the age-old advice to sit up straight. Image credit: Flickr/y2bd.

Researchers at the University of Auckland has found evidence that suggests people who are depressed can improve their outlook simply by improving their posture while sitting. In the paper published in Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, the team outlines experiments they conducted with volunteers and what they learned from them.

Previous research had focused on the link between posture and mood in healthy populations, says Elizabeth Broadbent, Ph.D., one of the authors of the new study. Broadbent is an associate professor of health psychology at the University of Auckland.

Now, in the new report, Elizabeth Broadbent and her team examined whether changing one’s posture could alleviate the negative effects in 61 people with mild to moderate depression who underwent a stressful task. The participants were randomly assigned to either a usual-posture group or an upright-posture group.

To learn more the researchers enlisted 61 volunteers, all of whom showed signs of depression in a questionnaire responses. The researchers asked all of the volunteers to sit and to give a five-minute speech that would be judged— afterward, each was asked to try to count backwards from 1,022 by 13, two activities known to evoke stress and thus depressive symptoms. Each volunteer was also asked to fill out several questionnaires given during various stages of the experiment. Prior to the start of the experiments, the volunteers were unknowingly assigned to one of two groups, Upright Posture and Usual Posture Those in the Upright Posture group were asked to sit up straight during the tasks and some even had sturdy tape applied to their back and shoulders to help them maintain an upright posture. Those in the Usual group were allowed to sit any way they pleased.

Broadbent and her colleagues discovered that the upright-posture group spoke significantly more words than the other group.

Find your dream job in the space industry. Check our Space Job Board »

Past studies have shown that people with depression often used “I,” the first person singular pronoun. The upright-posture group used fewer words with this pronoun compared to the usual-posture group, and they also had shorter utterances.

Researchers suggest that having a good posture may help reduce self-focus among people with depression, as well as result to less negative mood and more energy. These have all been linked to alleviating the symptoms of depression.


Source: University of Auckland

Research References:

Wilkes C, Kydd R, Sagar M, Broadbent E., Upright posture improves affect and fatigue in people with depressive symptoms, Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry (2017). DOI: 10.1016/j.jbtep.2016.07.015


Background and objectives
Slumped posture is a diagnostic feature of depression. While research shows upright posture improves self-esteem and mood in healthy samples, little research has investigated this in depressed samples. This study aimed to investigate whether changing posture could reduce negative affect and fatigue in people with mild to moderate depression undergoing a stressful task.

Sixty-one community participants who screened positive for mild to moderate depression were recruited into a study purportedly on the effects of physiotherapy tape on cognitive function. They were randomized to sit with usual posture or upright posture and physiotherapy tape was applied. Participants completed the Trier Social Stress Test speech task. Changes in affect and fatigue were assessed. The words spoken by the participants during their speeches were analysed.

At baseline, all participants had significantly more slumped posture than normative data. The postural manipulation significantly improved posture and increased high arousal positive affect and fatigue compared to usual posture. The upright group spoke significantly more words than the usual posture group, used fewer first person singular personal pronouns, but more sadness words. Upright shoulder angle was associated with lower negative affect and lower anxiety across both groups.

The experiment was only brief and a non-clinical sample was used.

This preliminary study suggests that adopting an upright posture may increase positive affect, reduce fatigue, and decrease self-focus in people with mild-to-moderate depression. Future research should investigate postural manipulations over a longer time period and in samples with clinically diagnosed depression.