“Our nonverbals govern how other people think about us, but, do our nonverbals govern how we think and feel about ourselves?”
Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist at Harvard University, and collaborator Dana Carney conducted a study that asked this very question. Is it possible to fake it till you feel it? Can you exert a certain behavior for a little while and in return experience a behavioral outcome that makes you seem more powerful?
According to Dr. Cuddy, there is evidence that proves we can.
For example, we smile when we feel happy, but even when we are forced to smile, by holding a pen in our teeth, the forced smile can still make us feel happy. It goes both ways. When it comes to power, it also goes both ways. When you feel powerful, you’re more likely to stand in a powerful pose, but it’s also possible that when you pretend to be powerful, you are more likely to actually feel powerful.
According to Cuddy there are many observable behavioral differences. “Powerful people tend to be, not surprisingly, more assertive, confident, and optimistic. They actually feel that they’re going to win even at games of chance, and thus take more risks. They also tend to be able to think more abstractly. There are a lot of differences between powerful and powerless people.”
“We know that our minds change our bodies, but do our bodies change our minds?”
So what’s going on internally? And by internally I don’t mean what are we thinking but rather what hormones are being excreted into the brain which affects our thinking. Cuddy says “physiologically, there are also differences [between the powerful and the powerless] on two key hormones: testosterone, which is the dominance hormone, and cortisol, which is the stress hormone. High-power alpha males in primate hierarchies have high testosterone and low cortisol, and powerful and effective leaders also have high testosterone and low cortisol. So what does that mean? When you think about power, people tended to think only about testosterone, because that was about dominance. But really, power is also about how you react to stress. So do you want the high-power leader that’s dominant, high on testosterone, but really stress reactive? Probably not, right? You want the person who’s powerful and assertive and dominant, but not very stress reactive, the person who’s laid back.”
Cuddy ran an experiment using high-power and low-power poses. The findings revealed that out of those who were previously standing in the high-power pose, 86% were willing to gamble. On the other hand, only 60% of the low-power pose people were willing to gamble. Those in high-power poses experienced a 20% increase in testosterone, while low-power pose people experienced a 10% decrease. Cortisol (the stress hormone) decreased by 25% in those that took the high-power pose and increased by 15% by those who took the low-power pose.
Just two minutes in a high-power or low-power pose lead to hormonal changes that configure the brain. From this we can assume that our non-verbals do govern the way we think and feel about ourselves and that our bodies change our minds.
Taking on high-power poses is one of TRACOM’s strategies for developing resiliency. In times of adversity or stress, taking on high-power poses can allow one to feel more confident about handling the situation at hand. It can lead to lower cortisol levels, allowing the brain to think more rationally and less abruptly.
Stress and adversity are not going to disappear, so people’s ability to become more resilient to life’s challenges is more important than ever. Research shows that highly resilient people respond to challenges with flexibility, bounce back from challenges, and even find opportunities within challenges.
Learn more about TRACOM’s Resilient Mindset Model here.
View the full video of Amy Cuddy’s Ted Talks “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are” here.