4 min|Dr. Jam Caleda
Movements Shape the Mind and Impact Your LifeWellness
Before Wonder Woman engages in hand-to-hand combat against the thugs of America, I believe she stands in front of the mirror for two minutes in her power pose; legs shoulder-width apart, hands on her waist, chest open, and chin up.
The Impact of Your Body Language
The theory that power standing changes self-awareness comes from many social researchers and neurobiologists but I was first introduced to the idea on a TedTalk from Amy Cuddy (1). She delved into the profound impact of how your own body language shapes who you are, and can be the domino that cascades into how successful you become in life.
As social creatures we are greatly affected by the postures, movements, and non-verbal interactions of those around us. We make sweeping judgments and inferences based on these non-verbal communications. These same judgments can have the influence on predicting meaningful life outcomes; who we hire at a job interview, who we ask out on a date, who we sue or not sue.
For example, Nalini Ambady, a researcher at Tufts University set up an experiment where subjects were asked to watch 30 second soundless clips of a patient-doctor interaction, and based on inferences of a physicians ‘niceness’ the subjects were able to predict whether or not that physician will be sued (2). It didn’t have so much to do with medical competence, but more so on if we like a person during our interaction.
An interesting evolution of this experiment was when social scientists discovered that our judgments based on non-verbal actions not only predicted how we felt about others but more importantly how we feel about ourselves. In sports we see postures of victory, the pose a runner takes as she crosses the finish line in first place; chest out, arms upturned toward the heavens, chin tilted upward. We also see postures of defeat, shoulders rolled forward, and inward concavity of the body, and the head turned downward.
These postures are an external manifestation of how we feel inside; victory or pride versus defeat or shame. They are universal, not only in humans but in most primates and larger mammals. Well, what if this process was reversed?
What if we could hack our bodies so that if we felt defeated achieving a stance of victory could alter our emotions about failure?
It is obvious that we smile when we are happy, but researchers have determined that even by forcing someone to smile by putting a pencil between their teeth which upturns the lips can cause happiness also (3). This happens because there is a positive feedback loop that connects the muscles of our face to our brain. When the muscles of smiling contract it releases endorphins and neurotransmitters that are perceived as pleasurable, similarly like the joy we feel when eating our favorite pastry dish; mine is a sugar-glazed donut.
Amy Cuddy was intrigued by this concept and translated it to her observations of power dynamics, teaching at a very competitive business school. She measured two specific hormones that determine a sense of power, testosterone (the dominance hormone) which promotes it, and cortisol (the stress hormone) which inhibits it. She found that when you even ‘pretend’ to feel powerful by holding a ‘victorious’ or ‘power’ stance for just two minutes your testosterone increases and cortisol decreases (4).
We have this evidence that body movements shape the mind and can impact your life in meaningful ways. So where we want to use this is in social evaluative situations, where outcomes are determined by people who are judging us, for example, students at a lunch table, or preparing for a job interview, or preparing for a speech. These postures that we assume truly have an outcome in how we feel about ourselves and in turn how others perceive us and our performance in social tasks.
Needless to say, like Diana Prince (Wonder Woman), I would be surprised if Hal Brown, Eric Posen, and Larry Chan stand power posing in front of their mirrors on Monday mornings, take a deep breath and whisper, “Yes I can.”
- Ambady, Nalini, and Robert Rosenthal. "Half a minute: Predicting teacher evaluations from thin slices of nonverbal behavior and physical attractiveness." Journal of personality and social psychology3 (1993): 431.
- Rossouw, Pieter. "The neuroscience of smiling and laughter." The Neuropsychotherapist1 (2013).
- Fiske, Susan T., et al. "A model of (often mixed) stereotype content: competence and warmth respectively follow from perceived status and competition." Journal of personality and social psychology6 (2002): 878.