Body Language Affects How Others See us and How we See Ourselves

Amy-cuddy_TED Global
Social psychologist Amy Cuddy's research on body language reveals that we can change other people’s perceptions — and even our own body chemistry — simply by changing body positions.

When we become aware of our body posture, we may find that we're hunching over, or maybe we spread out. We notice those things in others. Amy Cuddy says:

we're really fascinated with body language, and we're particularly interested in other people's body language. You know, we're interested in an awkward interaction, or a smile, or a contemptuous glance, or maybe a very awkward wink, or maybe even something like a handshake.

We communicate with our body, not just our words.

a handshake, or the lack of a handshake, can have us talking for weeks and weeks and weeks. Even the BBC and The New York Times. So obviously when we think about nonverbal behavior, or body language — but we call it nonverbals as social scientists — it's language, so we think about communication. When we think about communication, we think about interactions. So what is your body language communicating to me? What's mine communicating to you?

It has been scientifically proven that a handshake creates better cooperation and trust between humans. A handshake has a powerful effect on us — even when it is that of a robot. After conducting experiments using a 58-cm tall humanoid robot in mock real estate negotiations, researcher Dr Chris Bevan, of the University of Bath's Department of Psychology, said:

This experiment highlights just how important the symbolic ritual of shaking hands is upon the way people come to judge others as being trustworthy and willing to cooperate. Using a robotic avatar, we were able to demonstrate that this effect holds true even when a person cannot see the face of their counterpart.

Body language is rich with human data that influences who we elect, and even if a physician will be sued. Cuddy says:

social scientists have spent a lot of time looking at the effects of our body language, or other people's body language, on judgments. And we make sweeping judgments and inferences from body language. And those judgments can predict really meaningful life outcomes like who we hire or promote, who we ask out on a date.

Though we may pay attention to the body language of others, we often neglect to notice our own posture. When we feel victorious and powerful, we use expansive gestures, just like other primates. While we tend to close up to protect ourselves when we feel powerless — humans and animals alike.

Noticing the disparity in how people show up for their MBA classes, Cuddy and her main main collaborator Dana Carney wanted to learn if it is possible to feel powerful by pretending to be powerful. They set out to answer whether it was possible for our bodies to change our minds.

powerful people tend to be, not surprisingly, more assertive and more confident, more optimistic. They actually feel they're going to win even at games of chance. They also tend to be able to think more abstractly. There are a lot of differences. They take more risks. There are a lot of differences between powerful and powerless people.

Physiologically, there also are differences on two key hormones: testosterone, which is the dominance hormone, and cortisol, which is the stress hormone. What we find is that high-power alpha males in primate hierarchies have high testosterone and low cortisol, and powerful and effective leaders also have high testosterone and low cortisol. What does that mean? When you think about power, people tended to think only about testosterone, because that was about dominance.

Power is also about how you react to stress. Do you want the high-power leader that's dominant, high on testosterone, but really stress reactive? Probably not, right? You want the person who's powerful and assertive and dominant, but not very stress reactive, the person who's laid back.

They decided to conduct small experiments with people by asking them to stand or sit in a certain way. Then they would ask them how they felt:

this is what we find. Risk tolerance, which is the gambling, we find that when you are in the high-power pose condition, 86 percent of you will gamble. When you're in the low-power pose condition, only 60 percent, and that's a whopping significant difference.

Here's what we find on testosterone. From their baseline when they come in, high-power people experience about a 20-percent increase, and low-power people experience about a 10-percent decrease. Two minutes, and you get these changes.

Here's what you get on cortisol. High-power people experience about a 25-percent decrease, and the low-power people experience about a 15-percent increase. Two minutes lead to these hormonal changes that configure your brain to basically be either assertive, confident and comfortable, or really stress-reactive, and feeling sort of shut down. And we've all had the feeling, right? It seems that our nonverbals do govern how we think and feel about ourselves, so it's not just others, but it's also ourselves. Also, our bodies change our minds.

Can power posing for a few minutes change our lives meaningfully? Some people may feel like impostors for trying. Amy Cuddy is herself an example of how this principle works. At 19 she was in a bad car accident after which she learned her I.Q. had dropped by two standard deviations and she had been withdrawn from college.

Through  hard work, Cuddy graduated from college and ended up at Princeton:

I convinced someone, my angel advisor, Susan Fiske, to take me on, and so I ended up at Princeton, and I was like, I am not supposed to be here. I am an impostor. And the night before my first-year talk, and the first-year talk at Princeton is a 20-minute talk to 20 people. That's it.

I was so afraid of being found out the next day that I called her and said, I'm quitting.

She was like, You are not quitting, because I took a gamble on you, and you're staying. You're going to stay, and this is what you're going to do. You are going to fake it. You're going to do every talk that you ever get asked to do. You're just going to do it and do it and do it, even if you're terrified and just paralyzed and having an out-of-body experience, until you have this moment where you say, 'Oh my gosh, I'm doing it. Like, I have become this. I am actually doing this.'

So that's what I did.

We can not only fake it until we make it — we can fake it until we become it

I want to say to you, don't fake it till you make it. Fake it till you become it. Do it enough until you actually become it and internalize.

Small tweaks to our posture can lead to big gains in confidence.


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