Social psychologist Amy Cuddy, Associate Professor at Harvard Business School, wrote a New York Times bestselling book titled, Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges, in which she presents her research work which supports the age-old truth that “Your body language shapes who you are.” Before I share with you some truths from that talk, let’s look at a paragraph from her profile on the Harvard Business School website.
“Cuddy’s research with Dana Carney (UC-Berkeley) focuses on how nonverbal expressions of power (i.e., expansive, open, space-occupying postures) affect people’s feelings, behaviors, and hormone levels. In particular, their research shows that “faking” body postures associated with dominance and power (“power posing”) – even for as little as two minutes – increases people’s testosterone, decreases their cortisol, increases their appetite for risk, and causes them to perform better in job interviews. In short, as David Brooks summarized the findings, “If you act powerfully, you will begin to think powerfully.”
Professor Cuddy presents this well-known premise: “Our bodies can change our minds, and our minds can change our behavior, and our behavior changes our outcomes.”
That premise is not new, it’s been around a long time. What she adds to this well-known truth is that she shows how modern science backs it up. Pep talking yourself does work at a very biological and physiological level. Body postures of power do result in hormones being secreted. Testosterone goes up and cortisol goes down. This is shown to happen with doing a power posture for just two minutes!
As far as your body is concerned, as far as the truth at the molecular level is concerned, it’s not, “Fake it till you make it.” It is, “Fake it till you become it.” Remember that people who naturally put on power postures may simply have learned it from parents or teachers during their formative years of life so that it became a habit ingrained in them. They didn’t even know that they were learning it because they unconsciously modeled a favorite teacher or parent. Now they simply do it and don’t even know they are doing it. They do it unconsciously and the habit helps them in tremendous ways. We too can learn it today. It’s never too late. And it makes no difference if you learn something knowing that you are learning it or learn it without really knowing you are learning it. In the end, all that matters is that you have learned it and your body is changed in the same exact way, the same hormones are produced and the body cannot tell whether you learned it knowing it or not. In fact, the body cannot even tell if you had genes that gave you an inclination towards doing it or not.
As Cuddy says, changing body language “could significantly change the way your life unfolds.”
The way we act, the way we carry ourselves really does change who we are at the physiologic level and at the molecular level. It’s not fake.
To watch Dr. Cuddy talk about her research, click here.
Questions for reflection
What has been your experience with how body language affects our communication?
Did you learn anything new from this post? If so, what? How do you plan to use it? Do you know someone who could benefit from it?
Do you think that your body posture can impact your health? If so, how?