- Oct 2017
Amy Cuddy is an American social psychologist who has produced significant research on nonverbal behavior and language. In her TEDx Talk, Amy Cuddy shared research (both her own as well as that of others) that demonstrates the significance of body language and other nonverbal cues in our daily interactions and perceptions of our environment. Our emotions and our physiology are influenced by and understood through our nonverbal expressions. Nonverbal expressions of power and dominance cause humans and animals alike to make themselves bigger. When we feel powerful, we take up more space by spreading ourselves on a couch or entering a room emphatically and assertively. These expressions of power are “universal and old.” In fact, they are ingrained within us. Congenitally blind people and those born with sight perform the same gesture of pride when they win at a physical competition. It doesn't matter if they've never seen anyone do it. Both groups of people lift their arms over their head in a V shape and lift their chin - this is the posture of pride studied extensively by Jessica Tracy.
In contrast, expressions of powerlessness make the person or animal small. When we feel powerless or scared, we close in on ourselves, and wrap ourselves up. We don’t want to bump into the person next to us. As a professor at a competitive collegiate institution, Amy Cuddy has observed classic cases of alpha male gestures of dominance as well as gestures of powerlessness most often occurring within populations of women in her classes.
Some people raise their hands really high and occupy a lot of space in the classroom environment; others appear to be “collapsing in on themselves” when they enter her classroom. Correlated with gender, expressions of power engender greater participation in class; expressions of powerlessness are associated with lower participation in the classroom setting. So, even though equally qualified women and men enter the same university, they still experience differences in grades, a fact that seems to be partly attributable to participation. So Cuddy hoped to answer the question of whether or not our nonverbal expressions govern how we think, feel, and behave. She also wanted to explore if one could experience a behavioral outcome by faking confidence and enthusiastic participation.
Physiologically, those who feel more powerful are more likely to be assertive, confident, and optimistic; these people feel that they will win even at games of chance. Powerful people take more risks, and show higher levels of testosterone or the dominance hormone, and lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. For one of Cuddy’s experiments, people were made to adopt either high power poses or low power poses. First, participants spat in a cup. Then, for two minutes, participants would either adopt a high-power or low-power pose. After two minutes, participants are asked to rate how powerful they feel on a series of items. Then, they are given an opportunity gamble, and afterwards spit in another cup.
- 86% of the participants who adopted a high-power pose gambled.
- 60% of the participants who adopted a low-power pose gambled.
- People who adopted the high-power pose experienced a 20% increase in testosterone.
- People who adopted a low-power pose experienced a 10% decrease in testosterone.
- Participants who adopted a high-power pose experienced a 25% decrease in cortisol.
- Participants who adopted a low-power pose experienced a 15% increase in cortisol.
Cuddy’s results demonstrate that as little time as two minutes of power-posing can lead to hormonal changes and behavioral differences, causing us to either feel confident or stress-reactive. In order to apply the significance of body language and power posing to real life, Cuddy and fellow researchers needed to choose a situation that is comparatively evaluative and invites social threat, and other stressors. They felt the most relatable situation would be that of a job interview. Participants in this second study either adopt low-power or high-power poses and aftwerwards undergo a stressful, five-minute job interview. Participants are recorded and judged during the interview. Judges are trained in nonverbal cues, and appear with stoic expressions the entire time.
Four independent coders then evaluate the interview tapes of the study’s participants, and determine who they would hire. These coders are unaware of the hypothesis and conditions of the experiment’s participants. Participants who adopted the high-power poses were hired, and rated more positively overall. The content of the participants’ speech was not necessarily the determining factor. In other words, their linguistic communication did not significantly influence their hiring. The presence of their speech (their enthusiasm, passion, and seeming authenticity) did, all of which was influenced by their initial body language.
Amy Cuddy’s TEDx Talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ks-_Mh1QhMc