Research has shown that the simple act of sitting up straight can improve confidence. In a recently posted TED talk, social psychologist Amy Cuddy takes this idea a step further and introduces us to the concept of the “power pose”: feet planted firmly on the ground about shoulder-width apart, knees locked, arms akimbo. Power pose! Or, as Cuddy calls it, “A free no-tech life hack.” She goes on to say that our body language is a form of communication:
“…[W]hen 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.”
Cuddy explains that her studies have shown that not only do we change others’ perceptions of us when we power pose, we also alter our brain chemistry such that we actually start to feel better about ourselves. In animal studies, alpha leaders tend to have high levels of testosterone (for dominance) combined with low levels of cortisol (reduced stress; you can’t be an effective alpha if you’re both dominant and overwhelmed by stress). To study whether this hormonal interplay also occurs in humans, Cuddy and her fellow researchers had subjects pose in either strong or weak positions, let them gamble, and had them fill out a questionnaire about how powerful they felt. The researchers then took saliva samples from the subjects. As it turns out, the “high power” group had reduced levels of cortisol and the “low power” group had increased levels of cortisol. Cuddy’s conclusion? “Our nonverbals govern how we think and feel about ourselves.” Something to keep in mind next time you head to a job interview. So maybe rather than ‘fake it ’til you make it,’ the more accurate conclusion is ‘fake it and you WILL make it.’
And while the way in which this research was conducted may be new, judging by this 1953 video, it seems we’ve been concerned about posture for quite a while. What we now understand as cortisol and testosterone and brain science used to simply be called “health.” Sometimes you can’t help but think, the more things change, the more they stay the same. [click on image below to go to video].