Fake it ’till you become it: how body language shapes who we are

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Do you ever put much thought into how you express yourself through body language? The things we do non-verbally are just as indicative of our feelings as verbal communication, and they can tell people a lot about who we are. The fact that you sit hunched over or with your arms crossed might not seem to mean anything on the surface, but they give away a big story.

The effect of body language

Words aren’t always the most important thing that we can communicate. Sometimes, when we’re upset, we don’t feel like talking, but our bodies give that away without us having to say anything. The effect of non-verbal expression can have a far-reaching impact on our lives, from whether we’re successful in a job interview to whether someone asks us out on a date.

Think about it. When you’re feeling confident, you probably sit differently to how you might if you’re nervous. You open your body up, and you’re less likely to try and avoid eye contact. To a prospective employer, this tells them that you feel comfortable and you’re likely to be a useful person in their team, whereas the opposite sets off alarm bells. They’re judging you based not on what you’re saying, but by how you’re presenting yourself.

The contrasts of power

A lot of what this body language comes down to is the expression of power. You’re either opening up your body and taking up space to feel powerful, or you’re closing in on yourself and shrinking to feel the opposite. When someone’s doing one, someone else around them is usually doing the other.

Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist, found this was often the case in MBA classrooms. Some classmates expressed power in their body language, while others showed weakness. This affected their likelihood to get involved in classes, and as participation counts for half of the student’s grade, that impacted their educational performance.

These observations led Cuddy to wonder if it was possible to fake body confidence and trick yourself into feeling more powerful. After all, we can trick our bodies into doing other things. For instance, the act of smiling can cheer us up, even when we’re feeling down. If that’s achievable, shouldn’t this be too?

Testing the hypothesis

To see if that was the case, Cuddy took a sample of people and asked them to stand in certain poses for two minutes. She didn’t specify whether these were high or low power poses, and took a sample of their saliva both before and after the experiment. Once the two minutes were up, she asked them how powerful they felt, and then gave them the chance to gamble.

It was discovered that there was an increase of 26% in willingness to gamble for people who’d stood in the high power pose. Moreover, there was a 20% rise in testosterone levels, compared to a 10% fall for those in the low power poses. However, it was the opposite for cortisol levels, with the latter group increasing by 15% and the former decreasing by 25%.

This fits with what Cuddy expected. She believes that high powered individuals are dominant but stress reactive, which is linked to high levels of testosterone and low levels of cortisol.

Following the findings, the psychologist stated that pulling these power poses can help for things like being successful in a job interview. In another experiment, she found that these poses had a positive impact on the likelihood of participants getting hired, all because of the way they presented themselves. It might be hard to believe that it’s really possible to trick your body into thinking and acting confidently, but the proof is there.

If you’d always thought that it was your mind that controlled your body, maybe now you think a little differently. The next time you’re feeling nervous and need to inject yourself with some confidence, all it might take is a bit of posing. It could work wonders.

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