Here is the full text of social psychologist Amy Cuddy’s talk: Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are….
This transcript is also titled as: Fake it Till You Make it
Listen to the MP3 Audio: Your body language may shape who you are by Amy Cuddy
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?