Body language affects how others see us, but it may also change how we see ourselves. This week’s TED talk has Harvard Social psychologist and author of new book Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges Amy Cuddy shows how “power posing” — standing in a posture of confidence, even when we don’t feel confident — can affect testosterone and cortisol levels in the brain, and might even have an impact on our chances for success.
Dr Cuddy is fascinated with body language, and decoding it and other nonverbal behaviors. A recent Princeton study by Alex Todorov showed that microexpressions are easily decoded by most people, at least subconsciously, with a mere one second clip of politicians being able to predict the outcome of races over 70% of the time.
Dr. Cuddy’s intersectional disciplinary interest in both body language and business shows that, across all animals, ‘powerful’ creatures open up, expand. (think of a pufferfish, or an Olympic runner spreading their arms wide as they cross the finish line as a winner). Unsurprisingly, women in MBA program classrooms tend to turn their bodies inward when participating in class discussions – gender bias leads them to be submissive, which affects their participation grade.
Preliminary studies with Dr. Cuddy’s associate Dana Carney show that consciously altering your body language allows you to ‘fake it ’till you make it’, even as simple an exercise as biting down on a pen (forcing your mouth into a smile) to cause happiness can be effective. A simple study showed a 25% swing in both testosterone and cortisol (stress chemical) levels just from two minutes of aping a non-verbal dominant (or submissive) stance.
Dr. Cuddy goes on to describe her personal story of growing up a gifted child, suffering a traumatic head injury, then suffering from Imposter Syndrome throughout her college years until a professor demanded she acted the part of a skilled grad student – being forced to fake it until she made it.
Tiny tweaks can lead to big changes – Dr. Cuddy implores the audience to just spend two minutes before your next stressful interaction acting confident, even something as silly as standing like Wonder Woman in the bathroom mirror before a job interview can have a real, positive influence on your mental health and body language for a whole day or more.