When I hear about the mind-body connection, it’s almost always in reference to how the mind can influence the body. From athletes visualising their performance to the latest Quantum Bollocks on the self-help shelves, the message is the same: Where the mind goes, the body will follow.
Amy Cuddy says the reverse is also true — the body affects the mind. When people are told to hold dominant body language positions for two minutes, their cortisol decreases, their testosterone increases and they are more apt to engage in risk-taking. By “dominant body language,” think head-held-high, taking-up-space Superman types of poses.
More generally, we also know that forcing people to smile reliably influences perceptions. If you do a psychology degree you have to conduct a few psychological experiments for practice, and in mine, this was one of them. Everyone in the class had to recruit two people to rate how funny a cartoon was. But before they did, one of them had to hold a pen using their lips, while the other held it in their teeth without it touching their lips (forcing a smile). When the data were pooled, the people who had just forced a smile gave higher ratings. The implication here is that if you simulate the body language of someone who is finding something funny, you’re more likely to actually find something funny.
There are some interesting possible applications of this. Before a job interview, Amy suggests, you should go to the bathroom and throw your arms in the air. You could do the same before a big date, or a workout maybe. The other thing to keep in mind is to avoid submissive body language generally — don’t slouch or close yourself up in situations where you’ll need to be assertive.
One problem here though, is that Amy only used two conditions — high power and low power. Does high-power body language boost these hormones, does low-power body language decrease them, or is it both? It would have been useful to include a “neutral power” body language position too.
My money’s on both, meaning use the high-power body language whenever possible but settle for neutral in situations where it’s not appropriate to do your best Superman. It’s not recommended during a job interview, for example, unless you’re auditioning for the role of Superman.