How Your Body Language Shapes You

Amy Cuddy, a social scientists, focuses on nonverbal human behavior. Our posture, a handshake, an awkward hug, a smirk, and many other things fall under this category. She says our body language is a form of communication. Social scientists have spent a fair amount of time looking at the effect of our body language on other people. Our body language helps others make judgments and inferences about us. An example would be during a job interview. However, we focus a lot on how others are impacted by our body language but fail to look at how we are impacted by our body language. In her research, Cuddy focused on nonverbal expressions of power and dominance. For animals, they make themselves big and take up more space with their body. For humans, something similar takes place. To illustrate her point, Cuddy shows an image of Oprah and an Olympic runner stretching. A power pose is demonstrated by Cuddy in the image below.

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Cuddy then focuses on how men and women exhibit different body language and nonverbal expressions. As a professor at Harvard Business School, Cuddy has seen that male MBA students tend to take up more space around their desk area and be more dominant in the classroom. Females find their small space and prefer to be there and only raise their hands slightly, continuing to take up less space. This is not surprising because women feel less powerful than men. She then goes on to compare the minds of powerful and powerless people. In physiology, high power individuals have high levels of testosterone and low levels of cortisol. This is evidence that the body can shape the mind and the mind can shape the body.

Cuddy and her colleagues conducted an experiment where they took a student’s saliva sample, asked them to do either a low or high level pose for two minutes, asked them a series of questions about taking risks/gambles, and then took a saliva sample again. They found that those who did the high power pose were more likely to take risks/gambles. High power people also had higher levels of testosterone and lower levels of cortisol in only two minutes. This shows that our nonverbal behaviors govern how we think and feel about ourselves. How can we apply to this everyday life?

Answering this question was very important to Cuddy. She found that displaying confident and high power nonverbal behavior is important where we are being judged by others. This can be during a job interview or at a lunch meeting with friends. Since most people experience nonverbal shutdowns during a job interview, Cuddy conducted an experiment where several people were sent to an interview where they interviewers exhibited absolutely no nonverbal clues. The candidates came out very stressed and with high cortisol levels. At the end of the experiment, third party reviewers came in and looked at the videos of the interviews. They only preferred to hire the high power individuals because their nonverbal communication was a lot better. Cuddy tells a personal story of how she faked it until she made it at her first few jobs as a professor and speaker. She says you should not fake it until you make it, but fake it until you become it. Lastly, Cuddy concludes by saying everyone should try a power pose before stressful event and share this science to help others.

Source referenced: TED

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