What is your posture while reading this section? Are you leaning forward towards your computer screen with your elbows on your desk? Or are you sitting comfortably in your chair with your feet on the desk? Or is your posture a totally different one at the moment? How are you feeling in this very moment?
Social psychologist Amy Cuddy from Harvard Business School found posture to heavily influence how powerful and confident we feel. You might be surprised because usually when we talk about body language, also called nonverbal communication, we talk about how it impacts our judgment of others. In her TED Talk, Amy Cuddy explains how our body language also impacts our judgment of ourselves and how we can shape our emotions by our body language.
In an experiment, Amy Cuddy found that after spending just two minutes in high-power poses, participants felt more powerful and were more risk-tolerant and ready to gamble than participants that had spent two minutes in low-power poses. Furthermore, in high power posers the levels of testosterone, a hormone related to power, increased, whereas their levels of cortisol, which is related to stress, decreased. In high power posers, it was the other way round. Thus, being in a high-power poser makes you feel assertive, confident and comfortable, whereas being a low-power poser makes you really stress-reactive.
In a follow-up experiment, Amy Cuddy had her participants be in high- vs. low-power poses before going into a five minute job interview that was videotaped. Then coders who did not know which conditions the participants had been in rated the participants. They wanted to hire the participants in the high-power pose condition and judged them more positively than those in the low-power pose condition.
Amy Cuddy comes to the conclusion that our bodies change our minds, our minds change our behaviour, and our behaviour changes our outcomes. And she suggests: Don’t fake it till you make it, but fake it till you become it.
Amy Cuddy’s conclusions are close to what has been known in sports psychology for a long time already. James E. Loehr for example writes in his 1995 book “The New Toughness Training for Sports” that top athletes are usually good actors. They behave the way they want to feel (not the other way round). If they want to feel confident, they act in a confident manner. This means that we have to take on the facial expression and posture that corresponds to the emotion we want to feel.
It has been proven again and again that the link between emotion on the one hand and posture and facial expression on the other hand works in both directions. Try it out yourself by trying to hold a pencil with your upper lip. This will make you smile, and immediately you will feel a bit happier. Then try out what Amy Cuddy suggests: pose the way you want to feel – just for two minutes. See what happens. And feel free to share your experiences with us, either by leaving a comment here or on facebook or by writing an email to cute.scienceblog (at) googlemail.com.