Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are by Amy Cuddy (Transcript)

August 15, 2014 8:29 am | By More

 

Amy Cuddy – Social psychologist

So I want to start by offering you a free no-tech life hack, and all it requires of you is this: that you change your posture for two minutes. But before I give it away, I want to ask you to right now do a little audit of your body and what you’re doing with your body. So how many of you are sort of making yourselves smaller? Maybe you’re hunching, crossing your legs, maybe wrapping your ankles. Sometimes we hold onto our arms like this. Sometimes we spread out. I see you.

So I want you to pay attention to what you’re doing right now. We’re going to come back to that in a few minutes, and I’m hoping that if you learn to tweak this a little bit, it could significantly change the way your life unfolds.

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

[Video Clip] Narrator: Here they are arriving at Number 10, and look at this lucky policeman gets to shake hands with the President of the United States. Oh, and here comes the Prime Minister of the — ? No.

So 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?

And there’s a lot of reason to believe that this is a valid way to look at this. So 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. For example, Nalini Ambady, a researcher at Tufts University, shows that when people watch 30-second soundless clips of real physician-patient interactions, their judgments of the physician’s niceness predict whether or not that physician will be sued. So it doesn’t have to do so much with whether or not that physician was incompetent, but do we like that person and how they interacted?

Even more dramatic, Alex Todorov at Princeton has shown us that judgments of political candidates’ faces in just one second predict 70 percent of U.S. Senate and gubernatorial race outcomes, and even, let’s go digital, emoticons used well in online negotiations can lead to you claim more value from that negotiation. If you use them poorly, bad idea. Right? So when we think of nonverbals, we think of how we judge others, how they judge us and what the outcomes are. We tend to forget, though, the other audience that’s influenced by our nonverbals, and that’s ourselves.

We are also influenced by our nonverbals, our thoughts and our feelings and our physiology. So what nonverbals am I talking about? I’m a social psychologist. I study prejudice, and I teach at a competitive business school, so it was inevitable that I would become interested in power dynamics. I became especially interested in nonverbal expressions of power and dominance.

And what are nonverbal expressions of power and dominance? Well, this is what they are. So in the animal kingdom, they are about expanding. So you make yourself big, you stretch out, you take up space, you’re basically opening up. It’s about opening up. And this is true across the animal kingdom. It’s not just limited to primates. And humans do the same thing. So they do this both when they have power sort of chronically, and also when they’re feeling powerful in the moment. And this one is especially interesting because it really shows us how universal and old these expressions of power are. This expression, which is known as pride, Jessica Tracy has studied. She shows that people who are born with sight and people who are congenitally blind do this when they win at a physical competition. So when they cross the finish line and they’ve won, it doesn’t matter if they’ve never seen anyone do it. They do this. So the arms up in the V, the chin is slightly lifted.

What do we do when we feel powerless? We do exactly the opposite. We close up. We wrap ourselves up. We make ourselves small. We don’t want to bump into the person next to us. So again, both animals and humans do the same thing. And this is what happens when you put together high and low power. So what we tend to do when it comes to power is that we complement the other’s nonverbals. So if someone is being really powerful with us, we tend to make ourselves smaller. We don’t mirror them. We do the opposite of them.

So I’m watching this behavior in the classroom, and what do I notice? I notice that MBA students really exhibit the full range of power nonverbals. So you have people who are like caricatures of alphas, really coming into the room, they get right into the middle of the room before class even starts, like they really want to occupy space. When they sit down, they’re sort of spread out. They raise their hands like this. You have other people who are virtually collapsing when they come in. As soon they come in, you see it. You see it on their faces and their bodies, and they sit in their chair and they make themselves tiny, and they go like this when they raise their hand.

I notice a couple of things about this. One, you’re not going to be surprised. It seems to be related to gender. So women are much more likely to do this kind of thing than men. Women feel chronically less powerful than men, so this is not surprising. But the other thing I noticed is that it also seemed to be related to the extent to which the students were participating, and how well they were participating. And this is really important in the MBA classroom, because participation counts for half the grade.

So business schools have been struggling with this gender grade gap. You get these equally qualified women and men coming in and then you get these differences in grades, and it seems to be partly attributable to participation. So I started to wonder, you know, okay, so you have these people coming in like this, and they’re participating. Is it possible that we could get people to fake it and would it lead them to participate more?

So my main collaborator Dana Carney, who’s at Berkeley, and I really wanted to know, can you fake it till you make it? Like, can you do this just for a little while and actually experience a behavioral outcome that makes you seem more powerful? So we know that our nonverbals govern how other people think and feel about us. There’s a lot of evidence.

But our question really was, do our nonverbals govern how we think and feel about ourselves?

There’s some evidence that they do. So, for example, we smile when we feel happy, but also, when we’re forced to smile by holding a pen in our teeth like this, it makes us feel happy. So it goes both ways. When it comes to power, it also goes both ways. So when you feel powerful, you’re more likely to do this, but it’s also possible that when you pretend to be powerful, you are more likely to actually feel powerful.

So the second question really was, you know, so we know that our minds change our bodies, but is it also true that our bodies change our minds? And when I say minds, in the case of the powerful, what am I talking about? So I’m talking about thoughts and feelings and the sort of physiological things that make up our thoughts and feelings, and in my case, that’s hormones. I look at hormones. So what do the minds of the powerful versus the powerless look like? So powerful people tend to be, not surprisingly, more assertive and more confident, more optimistic. They actually feel that they’re going to win even at games of chance. They also tend to be able to think more abstractly. So 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. So 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.

So what does that mean? When you think about power, people tended to think only about testosterone, because that was about dominance. But really, power is also about how you react to stress. So 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.

So we know that in primate hierarchies, if an alpha needs to take over, if an individual needs to take over an alpha role sort of suddenly, within a few days, that individual’s testosterone has gone up significantly and his cortisol has dropped significantly. So we have this evidence, both that the body can shape the mind, at least at the facial level, and also that role changes can shape the mind. So what happens, okay, you take a role change, what happens if you do that at a really minimal level, like this tiny manipulation, this tiny intervention? “For two minutes,” you say, “I want you to stand like this, and it’s going to make you feel more powerful.”

So this is what we did. We decided to bring people into the lab and run a little experiment, and these people adopted, for two minutes, either high-power poses or low-power poses, and I’m just going to show you five of the poses, although they took on only two. So here’s one. A couple more. This one has been dubbed the “Wonder Woman” by the media. Here are a couple more. So you can be standing or you can be sitting. And here are the low-power poses. So you’re folding up, you’re making yourself small. This one is very low-power. When you’re touching your neck, you’re really protecting yourself. So this is what happens. They come in, they spit into a vial, we for two minutes say, “You need to do this or this.” They don’t look at pictures of the poses. We don’t want to prime them with a concept of power. We want them to be feeling power, right? So two minutes they do this. We then ask them, “How powerful do you feel?” on a series of items, and then we give them an opportunity to gamble, and then we take another saliva sample. That’s it. That’s the whole experiment.

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