A Body language is an essential part of communication, and a famous study even found that 55% of our first impression of someone is based on their body language. Although much of it is unconscious, it might be worth thinking about your body language a bit more, as not only could other people’s impressions affect you more than you realise, but your body language may also cause changes in your own brain.
B It is well-known that smiling and maintaining the right amount of eye contact tend to make people like us more. However, an experiment described in Psychology Today suggests that your posture also has a significant effect on how people perceive you, especially when they’re forming first impressions. The experiment looked at dating situations, both face-to-face and online profile pictures, and it was found that people with expansive postures who took up more space were generally seen as more attractive because they seemed more open and more dominant.
C In his book 12 Rules for Life, psychology professor Jordan Peterson suggests that you should stand up straight with your shoulders back. Partly this is meant figuratively, referring to how you should act in the world, but also your posture determines how others perceive you, and people’s perceptions affect your position in the social hierarchy. He explains that we have evolved over millions of years to live and have positions in hierarchies, and an ancient part of our brains watches how we are treated by other people to help determine our own positions in these hierarchies.
D Peterson adds that if you slump around or adopt closed, protective postures, people will assign you a lower status in the hierarchy. When that happens, your brain notices and also assigns you a low status and produces less serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter associated with happiness, and less of it means you will be less happy, more anxious, and less likely to stand up for yourself. In contrast, by standing up straight, you will be perceived as more competent and confident by others, which will have a positive effect on your position in the hierarchy.
E Amy Cuddy is another psychologist who was interested in posture, particularly how our own postures make us feel. She had observed that powerful people tend to have powerful postures – open, expansive, spread out limbs. They also tend to be more confident and more optimistic, and they have higher levels of testosterone (the hormone associated with power) and lower levels of cortisol (the hormone associated with stress). Our body language is usually an unconscious response to how we feel – if we feel powerful this leads to us adopting a powerful posture. But Amy wanted to know if it could work the other way around: could standing or sitting in a powerful posture for just a few minutes make us feel more powerful? It seems the answer is yes.
F In a TED talk with over 50 million views, she describes how she conducted an experiment with two groups of people, half of which had to adopt a high-power pose, and half a low-power pose for just 2 minutes to see if there was any effect. It was found that the people in the high-power pose group felt more powerful afterwards and took more risks. They even had increases in testosterone and decreases in cortisol, though similar experiments at a later date didn’t see these hormone changes.
G Wondering if spending time doing a 2-minute power pose could have an effect on real life situations, Amy conducted a similar experiment, but this time, after the two groups had done their 2-minute powerful or powerless poses, they had to go for a job interview. The interview was filmed and the video was then watched, without sound, by a group of observers. The observers’ task was to decide who they would like to give jobs to, and, after watching, they wanted to offer jobs to people from the high-power pose group.
H Stand up straight with your shoulders back, and perhaps even spend couple minutes in the bathroom stretching your arms out like a winner before that next interview.