TEDGlobal 2012

Amy Cuddy: Your body language shapes who you are

Filmed:

Body language affects how others see us, but it may also change how we see ourselves. Social psychologist Amy Cuddy shows how “power posing” -- standing in a posture of confidence, even when we don’t feel confident -- can affect testosterone and cortisol levels in the brain, and might even have an impact on our chances for success.

- Social Psychologist
Amy Cuddy’s research on body language reveals that we can change other people’s perceptions — and even our own body chemistry — simply by changing body positions. Full bio

So I want to start by offering you a free
00:16
no-tech life hack,
00:18
and all it requires of you is this:
00:21
that you change your posture for two minutes.
00:24
But before I give it away, I want to ask you to right now
00:28
do a little audit of your body and what you're doing with your body.
00:31
So how many of you are sort of making yourselves smaller?
00:35
Maybe you're hunching, crossing your legs,
00:37
maybe wrapping your ankles.
00:40
Sometimes we hold onto our arms like this.
00:41
Sometimes we spread out. (Laughter)
00:45
I see you. (Laughter)
00:48
So I want you to pay attention to what you're doing right now.
00:51
We're going to come back to that in a few minutes,
00:53
and I'm hoping that if you learn to tweak this a little bit,
00:55
it could significantly change the way your life unfolds.
00:59
So, we're really fascinated with body language,
01:02
and we're particularly interested
01:07
in other people's body language.
01:09
You know, we're interested in, like, you know — (Laughter) —
01:11
an awkward interaction, or a smile,
01:15
or a contemptuous glance, or maybe a very awkward wink,
01:19
or maybe even something like a handshake.
01:24
Narrator: Here they are arriving at Number 10, and look at this
01:27
lucky policeman gets to shake hands with the President
01:29
of the United States. Oh, and here comes
01:32
the Prime Minister of the — ? No. (Laughter) (Applause)
01:35
(Laughter) (Applause)
01:40
Amy Cuddy: So a handshake, or the lack of a handshake,
01:42
can have us talking for weeks and weeks and weeks.
01:46
Even the BBC and The New York Times.
01:48
So obviously when we think about nonverbal behavior,
01:51
or body language -- but we call it nonverbals as social scientists --
01:55
it's language, so we think about communication.
01:58
When we think about communication, we think about interactions.
02:01
So what is your body language communicating to me?
02:03
What's mine communicating to you?
02:06
And there's a lot of reason to believe that this is a valid
02:08
way to look at this. So social scientists have spent a lot
02:13
of time looking at the effects of our body language,
02:15
or other people's body language, on judgments.
02:19
And we make sweeping judgments and inferences from body language.
02:21
And those judgments can predict really meaningful life outcomes
02:24
like who we hire or promote, who we ask out on a date.
02:28
For example, Nalini Ambady, a researcher at Tufts University,
02:32
shows that when people watch 30-second soundless clips
02:37
of real physician-patient interactions,
02:41
their judgments of the physician's niceness
02:44
predict whether or not that physician will be sued.
02:47
So it doesn't have to do so much with whether or not
02:50
that physician was incompetent, but do we like that person
02:52
and how they interacted?
02:54
Even more dramatic, Alex Todorov at Princeton has shown
02:57
us that judgments of political candidates' faces
03:00
in just one second predict 70 percent of U.S. Senate
03:04
and gubernatorial race outcomes,
03:08
and even, let's go digital,
03:11
emoticons used well in online negotiations
03:14
can lead to you claim more value from that negotiation.
03:18
If you use them poorly, bad idea. Right?
03:21
So when we think of nonverbals, we think of how we judge
03:24
others, how they judge us and what the outcomes are.
03:27
We tend to forget, though, the other audience
03:30
that's influenced by our nonverbals, and that's ourselves.
03:32
We are also influenced by our nonverbals, our thoughts
03:35
and our feelings and our physiology.
03:39
So what nonverbals am I talking about?
03:41
I'm a social psychologist. I study prejudice,
03:44
and I teach at a competitive business school,
03:47
so it was inevitable that I would become interested in power dynamics.
03:50
I became especially interested in nonverbal expressions
03:54
of power and dominance.
03:58
And what are nonverbal expressions of power and dominance?
04:00
Well, this is what they are.
04:03
So in the animal kingdom, they are about expanding.
04:05
So you make yourself big, you stretch out,
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you take up space, you're basically opening up.
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It's about opening up. And this is true
04:14
across the animal kingdom. It's not just limited to primates.
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And humans do the same thing. (Laughter)
04:20
So they do this both when they have power sort of chronically,
04:24
and also when they're feeling powerful in the moment.
04:27
And this one is especially interesting because it really shows us
04:30
how universal and old these expressions of power are.
04:33
This expression, which is known as pride,
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Jessica Tracy has studied. She shows that
04:40
people who are born with sight
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and people who are congenitally blind do this
04:45
when they win at a physical competition.
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So when they cross the finish line and they've won,
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it doesn't matter if they've never seen anyone do it.
04:53
They do this.
04:55
So the arms up in the V, the chin is slightly lifted.
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What do we do when we feel powerless? We do exactly
04:59
the opposite. We close up. We wrap ourselves up.
05:02
We make ourselves small. We don't want to bump into the person next to us.
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So again, both animals and humans do the same thing.
05:09
And this is what happens when you put together high
05:12
and low power. So what we tend to do
05:15
when it comes to power is that we complement the other's nonverbals.
05:18
So if someone is being really powerful with us,
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we tend to make ourselves smaller. We don't mirror them.
05:25
We do the opposite of them.
05:27
So I'm watching this behavior in the classroom,
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and what do I notice? I notice that MBA students
05:32
really exhibit the full range of power nonverbals.
05:39
So you have people who are like caricatures of alphas,
05:42
really coming into the room, they get right into the middle of the room
05:44
before class even starts, like they really want to occupy space.
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When they sit down, they're sort of spread out.
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They raise their hands like this.
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You have other people who are virtually collapsing
05:55
when they come in. As soon they come in, you see it.
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You see it on their faces and their bodies, and they sit
06:00
in their chair and they make themselves tiny,
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and they go like this when they raise their hand.
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I notice a couple of things about this.
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One, you're not going to be surprised.
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It seems to be related to gender.
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So women are much more likely to do this kind of thing than men.
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Women feel chronically less powerful than men,
06:19
so this is not surprising. But the other thing I noticed is that
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it also seemed to be related to the extent to which
06:26
the students were participating, and how well they were participating.
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And this is really important in the MBA classroom,
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because participation counts for half the grade.
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So business schools have been struggling with this gender grade gap.
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You get these equally qualified women and men coming in
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and then you get these differences in grades,
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and it seems to be partly attributable to participation.
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So I started to wonder, you know, okay,
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so you have these people coming in like this, and they're
06:53
participating. Is it possible that we could get people to fake it
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and would it lead them to participate more?
07:00
So my main collaborator Dana Carney, who's at Berkeley,
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and I really wanted to know, can you fake it till you make it?
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Like, can you do this just for a little while and actually
07:10
experience a behavioral outcome that makes you seem more powerful?
07:13
So we know that our nonverbals govern how other people
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think and feel about us. There's a lot of evidence.
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But our question really was, do our nonverbals
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govern how we think and feel about ourselves?
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There's some evidence that they do.
07:28
So, for example, we smile when we feel happy,
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but also, when we're forced to smile
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by holding a pen in our teeth like this, it makes us feel happy.
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So it goes both ways. When it comes to power,
07:42
it also goes both ways. So when you feel powerful,
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you're more likely to do this, but it's also possible that
07:50
when you pretend to be powerful, you are more likely
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to actually feel powerful.
07:59
So the second question really was, you know,
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so we know that our minds change our bodies,
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but is it also true that our bodies change our minds?
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And when I say minds, in the case of the powerful,
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what am I talking about?
08:15
So I'm talking about thoughts and feelings
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and the sort of physiological things that make up our thoughts and feelings,
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and in my case, that's hormones. I look at hormones.
08:21
So what do the minds of the powerful versus the powerless
08:25
look like?
08:28
So powerful people tend to be, not surprisingly,
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more assertive and more confident, more optimistic.
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They actually feel that they're going to win even at games of chance.
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They also tend to be able to think more abstractly.
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So there are a lot of differences. They take more risks.
08:45
There are a lot of differences between powerful and powerless people.
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Physiologically, there also are differences on two
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key hormones: testosterone, which is the dominance hormone,
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and cortisol, which is the stress hormone.
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So what we find is that
09:01
high-power alpha males in primate hierarchies
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have high testosterone and low cortisol,
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and powerful and effective leaders also have
09:12
high testosterone and low cortisol.
09:15
So what does that mean? When you think about power,
09:17
people tended to think only about testosterone,
09:20
because that was about dominance.
09:22
But really, power is also about how you react to stress.
09:24
So do you want the high-power leader that's dominant,
09:27
high on testosterone, but really stress reactive?
09:30
Probably not, right? You want the person
09:33
who's powerful and assertive and dominant,
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but not very stress reactive, the person who's laid back.
09:38
So we know that in primate hierarchies, if an alpha
09:42
needs to take over, if an individual needs to take over
09:48
an alpha role sort of suddenly,
09:51
within a few days, that individual's testosterone has gone up
09:54
significantly and his cortisol has dropped significantly.
09:57
So we have this evidence, both that the body can shape
10:01
the mind, at least at the facial level,
10:04
and also that role changes can shape the mind.
10:06
So what happens, okay, you take a role change,
10:10
what happens if you do that at a really minimal level,
10:13
like this tiny manipulation, this tiny intervention?
10:16
"For two minutes," you say, "I want you to stand like this,
10:18
and it's going to make you feel more powerful."
10:21
So this is what we did. We decided to bring people
10:23
into the lab and run a little experiment, and these people
10:28
adopted, for two minutes, either high-power poses
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or low-power poses, and I'm just going to show you
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five of the poses, although they took on only two.
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So here's one.
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A couple more.
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This one has been dubbed the "Wonder Woman"
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by the media.
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Here are a couple more.
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So you can be standing or you can be sitting.
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And here are the low-power poses.
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So you're folding up, you're making yourself small.
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This one is very low-power.
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When you're touching your neck,
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you're really protecting yourself.
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So this is what happens. They come in,
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they spit into a vial,
11:10
we for two minutes say, "You need to do this or this."
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They don't look at pictures of the poses. We don't want to prime them
11:14
with a concept of power. We want them to be feeling power,
11:16
right? So two minutes they do this.
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We then ask them, "How powerful do you feel?" on a series of items,
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and then we give them an opportunity to gamble,
11:25
and then we take another saliva sample.
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That's it. That's the whole experiment.
11:30
So this is what we find. Risk tolerance, which is the gambling,
11:32
what we find is that when you're in the high-power
11:36
pose condition, 86 percent of you will gamble.
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When you're in the low-power pose condition,
11:42
only 60 percent, and that's a pretty whopping significant difference.
11:44
Here's what we find on testosterone.
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From their baseline when they come in, high-power people
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experience about a 20-percent increase,
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and low-power people experience about a 10-percent decrease.
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So again, two minutes, and you get these changes.
12:01
Here's what you get on cortisol. High-power people
12:04
experience about a 25-percent decrease, and
12:07
the low-power people experience about a 15-percent increase.
12:10
So two minutes lead to these hormonal changes
12:14
that configure your brain to basically be either
12:17
assertive, confident and comfortable,
12:20
or really stress-reactive, and, you know, feeling
12:23
sort of shut down. And we've all had the feeling, right?
12:27
So it seems that our nonverbals do govern
12:30
how we think and feel about ourselves,
12:33
so it's not just others, but it's also ourselves.
12:36
Also, our bodies change our minds.
12:38
But the next question, of course, is
12:41
can power posing for a few minutes
12:43
really change your life in meaningful ways?
12:44
So this is in the lab. It's this little task, you know,
12:47
it's just a couple of minutes. Where can you actually
12:49
apply this? Which we cared about, of course.
12:52
And so we think it's really, what matters, I mean,
12:55
where you want to use this is evaluative situations
12:59
like social threat situations. Where are you being evaluated,
13:02
either by your friends? Like for teenagers it's at the lunchroom table.
13:05
It could be, you know, for some people it's speaking
13:09
at a school board meeting. It might be giving a pitch
13:11
or giving a talk like this
13:14
or doing a job interview.
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We decided that the one that most people could relate to
13:20
because most people had been through
13:22
was the job interview.
13:23
So we published these findings, and the media
13:25
are all over it, and they say, Okay, so this is what you do
13:29
when you go in for the job interview, right? (Laughter)
13:31
You know, so we were of course horrified, and said,
13:34
Oh my God, no, no, no, that's not what we meant at all.
13:37
For numerous reasons, no, no, no, don't do that.
13:39
Again, this is not about you talking to other people.
13:42
It's you talking to yourself. What do you do
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before you go into a job interview? You do this.
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Right? You're sitting down. You're looking at your iPhone --
13:49
or your Android, not trying to leave anyone out.
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You are, you know, you're looking at your notes,
13:54
you're hunching up, making yourself small,
13:56
when really what you should be doing maybe is this,
13:58
like, in the bathroom, right? Do that. Find two minutes.
14:00
So that's what we want to test. Okay?
14:03
So we bring people into a lab, and
14:05
they do either high- or low-power poses again,
14:07
they go through a very stressful job interview.
14:10
It's five minutes long. They are being recorded.
14:13
They're being judged also, and the judges
14:17
are trained to give no nonverbal feedback,
14:19
so they look like this. Like, imagine
14:23
this is the person interviewing you.
14:25
So for five minutes, nothing, and this is worse than being heckled.
14:27
People hate this. It's what Marianne LaFrance calls
14:32
"standing in social quicksand."
14:35
So this really spikes your cortisol.
14:37
So this is the job interview we put them through,
14:39
because we really wanted to see what happened.
14:40
We then have these coders look at these tapes, four of them.
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They're blind to the hypothesis. They're blind to the conditions.
14:46
They have no idea who's been posing in what pose,
14:50
and they end up looking at these sets of tapes,
14:52
and they say, "Oh, we want to hire these people," --
14:57
all the high-power posers -- "we don't want to hire these people.
15:00
We also evaluate these people much more positively overall."
15:03
But what's driving it? It's not about the content of the speech.
15:06
It's about the presence that they're bringing to the speech.
15:10
We also, because we rate them on all these variables
15:13
related to competence, like, how well-structured
15:15
is the speech? How good is it? What are their qualifications?
15:18
No effect on those things. This is what's affected.
15:21
These kinds of things. People are bringing their true selves,
15:24
basically. They're bringing themselves.
15:28
They bring their ideas, but as themselves,
15:29
with no, you know, residue over them.
15:32
So this is what's driving the effect, or mediating the effect.
15:34
So when I tell people about this,
15:39
that our bodies change our minds and our minds can change our behavior,
15:43
and our behavior can change our outcomes, they say to me,
15:45
"I don't -- It feels fake." Right?
15:48
So I said, fake it till you make it. I don't -- It's not me.
15:50
I don't want to get there and then still feel like a fraud.
15:54
I don't want to feel like an impostor.
15:57
I don't want to get there only to feel like I'm not supposed to be here.
15:59
And that really resonated with me,
16:03
because I want to tell you a little story about
16:05
being an impostor and feeling like I'm not supposed to be here.
16:07
When I was 19, I was in a really bad car accident.
16:11
I was thrown out of a car, rolled several times.
16:14
I was thrown from the car. And I woke up in a head injury
16:17
rehab ward, and I had been withdrawn from college,
16:21
and I learned that my I.Q. had dropped by two standard deviations,
16:24
which was very traumatic.
16:30
I knew my I.Q. because I had identified with being smart,
16:33
and I had been called gifted as a child.
16:35
So I'm taken out of college, I keep trying to go back.
16:37
They say, "You're not going to finish college.
16:41
Just, you know, there are other things for you to do,
16:42
but that's not going to work out for you."
16:45
So I really struggled with this, and I have to say,
16:47
having your identity taken from you, your core identity,
16:51
and for me it was being smart,
16:54
having that taken from you, there's nothing that leaves you feeling more powerless than that.
16:56
So I felt entirely powerless. I worked and worked and worked,
17:00
and I got lucky, and worked, and got lucky, and worked.
17:03
Eventually I graduated from college.
17:06
It took me four years longer than my peers,
17:08
and I convinced someone, my angel advisor, Susan Fiske,
17:10
to take me on, and so I ended up at Princeton,
17:15
and I was like, I am not supposed to be here.
17:18
I am an impostor.
17:20
And the night before my first-year talk,
17:22
and the first-year talk at Princeton is a 20-minute talk
17:23
to 20 people. That's it.
17:26
I was so afraid of being found out the next day
17:28
that I called her and said, "I'm quitting."
17:31
She was like, "You are not quitting,
17:34
because I took a gamble on you, and you're staying.
17:35
You're going to stay, and this is what you're going to do.
17:38
You are going to fake it.
17:40
You're going to do every talk that you ever get asked to do.
17:42
You're just going to do it and do it and do it,
17:45
even if you're terrified and just paralyzed
17:47
and having an out-of-body experience, until you have
17:50
this moment where you say, 'Oh my gosh, I'm doing it.
17:53
Like, I have become this. I am actually doing this.'"
17:56
So that's what I did. Five years in grad school,
17:59
a few years, you know, I'm at Northwestern,
18:01
I moved to Harvard, I'm at Harvard, I'm not really
18:03
thinking about it anymore, but for a long time I had been thinking,
18:06
"Not supposed to be here. Not supposed to be here."
18:09
So at the end of my first year at Harvard,
18:11
a student who had not talked in class the entire semester,
18:14
who I had said, "Look, you've gotta participate or else you're going to fail,"
18:18
came into my office. I really didn't know her at all.
18:22
And she said, she came in totally defeated, and she said,
18:24
"I'm not supposed to be here."
18:28
And that was the moment for me. Because two things happened.
18:34
One was that I realized,
18:38
oh my gosh, I don't feel like that anymore. You know.
18:40
I don't feel that anymore, but she does, and I get that feeling.
18:43
And the second was, she is supposed to be here!
18:46
Like, she can fake it, she can become it.
18:48
So I was like, "Yes, you are! You are supposed to be here!
18:50
And tomorrow you're going to fake it,
18:54
you're going to make yourself powerful, and, you know,
18:55
you're gonna — " (Applause)
18:58
(Applause)
19:01
"And you're going to go into the classroom,
19:03
and you are going to give the best comment ever."
19:08
You know? And she gave the best comment ever,
19:10
and people turned around and they were like,
19:13
oh my God, I didn't even notice her sitting there, you know? (Laughter)
19:14
She comes back to me months later, and I realized
19:18
that she had not just faked it till she made it,
19:20
she had actually faked it till she became it.
19:23
So she had changed.
19:25
And so I want to say to you, don't fake it till you make it.
19:27
Fake it till you become it. You know? It's not —
19:31
Do it enough until you actually become it and internalize.
19:34
The last thing I'm going to leave you with is this.
19:38
Tiny tweaks can lead to big changes.
19:40
So this is two minutes.
19:45
Two minutes, two minutes, two minutes.
19:47
Before you go into the next stressful evaluative situation,
19:49
for two minutes, try doing this, in the elevator,
19:52
in a bathroom stall, at your desk behind closed doors.
19:55
That's what you want to do. Configure your brain
19:58
to cope the best in that situation.
20:01
Get your testosterone up. Get your cortisol down.
20:03
Don't leave that situation feeling like, oh, I didn't show them who I am.
20:06
Leave that situation feeling like, oh, I really feel like
20:10
I got to say who I am and show who I am.
20:12
So I want to ask you first, you know,
20:14
both to try power posing,
20:16
and also I want to ask you
20:20
to share the science, because this is simple.
20:22
I don't have ego involved in this. (Laughter)
20:25
Give it away. Share it with people,
20:27
because the people who can use it the most are the ones
20:29
with no resources and no technology
20:31
and no status and no power. Give it to them
20:35
because they can do it in private.
20:38
They need their bodies, privacy and two minutes,
20:39
and it can significantly change the outcomes of their life.
20:42
Thank you. (Applause)
20:45
(Applause)
20:50
Translated by Joseph Geni
Reviewed by Morton Bast

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About the Speaker:

Amy Cuddy - Social Psychologist
Amy Cuddy’s research on body language reveals that we can change other people’s perceptions — and even our own body chemistry — simply by changing body positions.

Why you should listen

Amy Cuddy wasn’t supposed to become a successful scientist. In fact, she wasn’t even supposed to finish her undergraduate degree. Early in her college career, Cuddy suffered a severe head injury in a car accident, and doctors said she would struggle to fully regain her mental capacity and finish her undergraduate degree.

But she proved them wrong. Today, Cuddy is a professor and researcher at Harvard Business School, where she studies how nonverbal behavior and snap judgments affect people from the classroom to the boardroom. And her training as a classical dancer (another skill she regained after her injury) is evident in her fascinating work on "power posing" -- how your body position influences others and even your own brain.

More profile about the speaker
Amy Cuddy | Speaker | TED.com