We all pretty much know that our mood is reflected in our body language. When you think of somewhat lacking confidence or lacking enthusiasm, a common mental image comes to mind, and research has shown it to be about right: Hunching, smallness, droopiness, etc. This seems obviously and intuitively true.
Unsurprisingly, our cousins in the animal kingdom are similar in their displays of body language. In her book Presence, Harvard psychologist Amy Cuddy has an interesting section on the study of body language in animals–which is in many ways much simpler to do because primates and snakes, lacking the same theories of mind as humans, don’t really fake their body language.
So we’re not alone: body language is a key indicator across the animal kingdom. But the more interesting question is the inversion of that idea: Can we manipulate our minds by altering our body language? Can we actually “fake it” ’til we “make it”?
Amy Cuddy seems to think so, but she has something to add.
Cuddy gave her first TED talk in 2012 on body language and how it influences our interactions with others, both how we act and how others perceive us.
It turned out to be a hit, with over 30 million views to date. The key idea in the speech was the “power pose” – manipulating your own body language to make yourself feel more poised and confident. Here’s a key section of the speech:
There are a few very interesting pieces in here. Not only are the poses of confident body language having a significant chemical effect in the “posers,” but it’s affecting their behavior in a significant way. A higher propensity to gamble stemming from increased confidence.
Of course, social science has already told us fairly clearly that the latter is true: Confidence does lead to a higher propensity to gamble. If the gamble remains the same (the odds are generally not favorable towards the gambler), we might call any increase in confidence in the face of the same odds a propensity towards over-confidence. (And of course, confidence has a host of positiveeffects on decision making as well, like less dithering.) So changing body language can actually cause us to make more mistakes if we’re operating in the wrong realm; this is something we must stay on guard against. Is this a situation where great confidence is warranted and desired?
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Cuddy’s main point is that there real practical effects to manipulating our body language: We really can influence perception.
In one experiment, some interviewees were directed to do “power posing” before an interview, whereas others we not. Upon seeing the videos of both, a group of third-party observers — unaware that one group had been posing and another had not, and in fact had no idea the aims of the study — wanted to hire the high-power posers:
In her book, Cuddy says this is not because we’re fooling them into believing we’re more confident than we really are. It’s because we’re fooling ourselves out of our own lack of self-confidence. What the interviewer sees is real. Inauthenticity is too noticeable; it usually backfires.
Cuddy concludes her book by bringing in a theory of “Self-nudging” – manipulating our own body language to get ourselves in the right frame of mind, where we can be authentically present and comfortable in our skin. So, can we “fake it til we make it?” Sure, but go one step further.
This piece originally appeared on Farnam Street.