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Bruno Dubuc, Patrick Robert, Denis Paquet, and Al Daigen




Monday, 23 February 2015
How Posture Can Affect the Brain

For decades now, scientists have had a good knowledge of the descending neural and hormonal pathways by which the human brain influences the human body. But until quite recently, there was still a tendency to underestimate just how much the human body influences the human brain. In an experiment reported in 2010, however, social psychologist Amy Cuddy showed that simply adopting a body posture associated with dominance will, within two minutes, cause measurable changes in people’s blood concentrations of certain hormones, and in certain of their behaviours, such as risk-taking.

As Cuddy explained in a TED talk in 2012 (see first link below), what inspired her study was an ethological observation very familiar from the animal kingdom. In a wide variety of species, including cats, wolves, and the great apes, to assert its dominance over another member of its species, an animal adopts a body posture that makes it look larger. And we humans, a species of large primates, do exactly the same thing: when we stand with our hands on our hips, or raise our arms to the sky in a moment of victory, we are adopting a universal posture of dominance. In contrast, in all humans, adopting a curled-up body posture is a definite sign of submission.

In Cuddy’s study, the researchers first took blood samples to determine their subjects’ levels of the two hormones most associated with dominance in animals: testosterone, which rises when an animal is behaving dominantly, and cortisol, which falls. Next, the researchers asked one group of subjects simply to mimic for two minutes the two dominant postures mentioned above. Afterward, blood samples were taken again. The differences between the blood levels of the two hormones before and after the mimicking exercise followed exactly the same pattern as in animals: the subjects’ testosterone levels had risen, and their cortisol levels had fallen. Cuddy and her team also made behavioural observations that showed the same pattern as in animals: after adopting the dominant postures, the subjects showed a greater willingness to take risks, which is well known to be positively correlated with self-confidence. In contrast, Cuddy’s second group of subjects were asked to mimic submissive postures, and their before-and-after results showed exactly the opposite changes.

Cuddy’s study thus provides support for proponents of the theory of embodied cognition, regarding the intimate connections between our bodies and our thought processes. There are many other studies that support this theory: for example, studies showing that forcing yourself to smile will increase your feelings of well-being and reduce your feelings of stress.

So the next time you’re about to take a job interview, you may want to keep Cuddy’s study in mind. Instead of sitting in the waiting room all tightly wound up with stress, go to washroom, look in the mirror, and raise your arms to the sky for a couple of minutes, then see how much it helps your performance. I’m not just making this up: studies have shown that job applicants who tried this tactic made a better impression, because of the greater presence that they conveyed.

i_lien Amy Cuddy: Your body language shapes who you are
i_lien Study: Forcing a Smile Genuinely Decreases Stress
a_exp Power Posing: Brief Nonverbal Displays Affect Neuroendocrine Levels and Risk Tolerance
a_rec Amy J.C. Cuddy

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