Social Psychologist Amy Cuddy delves into the deeper meaning behind understanding body language. In her 2012 Ted Talk, she dives into what she calls, non-verbal behavior.
Non-verbal communication is the truest form of communication
We tend to look at body language as a measurement of other people's body language, the subconscious meaning of their actions.
Body language is commonly referred to as non-verbal behavior, a way of conveying meaning without words. When we think of non-verbal behavior we think of human interactions and communication.
Social scientists look at the effects of body language on judgments, who we meet, who we promote, or who we date. Our decisions are based on more than just the words we take out of our interactions.
When we think of non-verbal communication, we think of others and how we communicate but we forget ourselves.
Amy’s research led her to non-verbal expressions and their effects on power dynamics. In the animal kingdom, power is portrayed by being bigger, showing power is about widening and opening up, and asserting non-verbal dominance. She found that the same applies to human beings.
This shows how old power expressions are and how ingrained they are in our interactions. Our non-verbal behavior betrays our feelings. When we feel powerless, we shrink and hide.
In terms of powerful versus powerless the two complement each other. When someone exhibits power the other curls up, and vice versa.
The power that people exhibit is manifested physically; Alphas spread out, occupy space and show dominance while those that are meek show it physically as well by getting small and protecting themselves.
Fake it till you make it: Faking Power Dynamics
The research found that determining who was powerful not only relates to gender, it also pertains to participation and engagement. This led Amy to ask this super-important question - Is it possible to fake being powerful? Or, in other words - Can you fake it till you make it? Do our non-verbal cues govern how we think and feel about ourselves?
When we smile we feel happy but the same is true when we force a smile. The same applies to power; when we feel powerful we spread out and when we spread out we feel powerful.
Can our minds change our bodies and can our bodies change our minds?
Powerful people look more assertive and are more optimistic, they take risks, and they are also higher in testosterone and lower in cortisol. This is because power is also about how you react to stress.
We know that the powerful person exhibits dominant body language. We also know that role changes can shape the mind, since stepping into a bigger role forces the mind to adapt. So what happens if we pretend to be powerful, pretend to take on a bigger role?
After testing her theory Amy was able to prove that pretending to be powerful physically, and showing powerful body language forces the mind to change accordingly. The way we present ourselves to the world not only changes the way they perceive us but also changes the way we perceive ourselves, chemically, physically, and mentally.
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Body language affects how others see us, but it may also change how we see ourselves. Social psychologist Amy Cuddy argues that "power posing" -- standing in a posture of confidence, even when we don't feel confident -- can boost feelings of confidence, and might have an impact on our chances for success. (Note: Some of the findings presented in this talk have been referenced in an ongoing debate among social scientists about robustness and reproducibility).