We know that physical gestures are an indicator of how we feel, but can it go the other way? Is there truth to the idea that one can “act their way into being”? Social psychologist, Amy Cuddy, speaks below about the relationship between feelings and gestures.
Some gestures are universal and inherent. Even the born-blind raise their arms in exultation when victorious in a competition. This is known as the pride gesture:
Cuddy begins with this example, and others, and shows that confidence on the inside leads to broad postures and gesture on the outside. For example: sitting back, putting your hands behind your head, and winging out your elbows. Or perhaps something like this:
The opposite is also true: when we’re not confident, scared, or ashamed, we’ll make ourselves appear smaller. For example: folding in our arms and tucking our head down:
Chicken and the egg states the feelings come and body follows. But it’s also true that the gestures perpetuate the emotions. So if gestures can perpetuate, can they not also create the desired emotion? Studies have shown that smiling, even when sad, can make you feel better. [A woman here in Minneapolis actually has laughing sessions as part of physical rehab.]
Cuddy further researched this idea of harnessing the power of gesture and posture to influence how we feel. She starts off talking about this by going all chemical on us, addressing the changes in the body of testosterone and cortisol when we adjust our posture. Testosterone leads to aggressiveness and cortisol leads one to become what she calls “stress reactive”. This means you get stressed out. So what we want is higher testosterone and lower cortisol.
The experiment Cuddy conducted was to give subjects two minutes to sit in a low power or high power pose. They were then given the chance to gamble with dice. High power posers (HPP) gambled 86% of the time following the posture; low power posers (LPP) only 60%. To go along with the significant difference in action, was the differences found in the two groups’ chemical make-up.
HPP’s had a 20% increase in testosterone; LPP’s had a 10% decrease.
HPP’s had a 25% decrease in cortisol; LPP had a 15% increase.
Going toward confident and cool vs. stress reactive and “shut down” as Cuddy put it, is a product of only two minutes of posture!
What about real-world applications? Her research tried a similar experiment during a high-intensity job interview scenario. The result was that the HPP were much more likely to get hired from the “interviewer” who had no clue who was prepped as an HPP or an LPP. It was all about confidence. The words may have been similar in the subjects being interviewed, but it was ”not about the content of the speech, but about the presence”, said Cuddy. We prefer people with ”no residue” over who they are.
The irony is that you do put up a sort of show when you have to “fake it ’til you make it”. Cuddy says people feel like an impostor, of placing a veil over who they are and what they feel at the time. To that, Cuddy wrapped up her presentation with a tale of her own struggle following a severe car accident, damaging her brain. She worked her way up, in part, by “acting as if”. In all, it’s an inspiring and though-provoking talk. Do watch it below: )
I personally think the distinction between “being fake” and using this phenomena to better yourself is that the latter is similar to going to the gym even when you don’t feel like it. It’s also not about not honoring one’s emotions, but about using the influence of our physicality to be confident and face life as is with a better attitude.
So let’s pump ourselves up a little bit by sitting up a little taller, stretching those arms back, and letting yourself come to realize that life is good.
to new plateaus,
And here’s Amy Cuddy: