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While most don’t give it a second thought, body language is something everyone uses throughout their day. Body language is the process of communicating with others nonverbally, and social psychologist Amy Cuddy discusses why she believes that being more aware of one’s body language and purposefully altering it can drastically change their life in her 2012 TED Talk.
In this TED Talk, Cuddy avoids giving away the main point of her speech right off the bat and instead starts it off making the audience aware of their own body language, such as whether they are spread out or making themselves small. Then Cuddy delves into multiple examples of body language that are linked to emotions everyone has experienced, from victory to a sense of powerlessness. Her study of body language is even investigated in the professional world through a study done with doctors, their patients, and random observers. In this experiment people were asked to observe a physician treating one of their patients through a video that contained no audio. After watching these videos, the observers were then asked to determine which physicians they thought were most likely to be sued for malpractice. Because their was no audio for the observers to work with their judgements were based completely off of how friendly the physician appeared to be when working with their patients, instead of being evaluated by their abilities as a health care giver. They were judged fully by the body language they were most likely presenting unconsciously. By bringing in these examples, Cuddy has set up her speech in a manner that can be understood universally while simultaneously setting up the major premise of her speech; the effects of body language on one’s self and how they are likely perceived by others..
Once Cuddy’s speech is set up, she presents her question: Can people really fake confidence until they themselves become confident? Can a purposeful alteration in one’s body language result in change in how one feels about themselves and the world around them? Or, in her exact words, “Do our nonverbals govern how we think and feel about ourselves?”and “Do our bodies change our minds?” In short, Cuddy’s answer is yes. After examining behavioral information and experiments (such as the physician one previously explained) she has come to the conclusion that when someone makes gestures that are associated with power and dominance, they themselves begin to feel more powerful, even if they were previously in a powerless position.
To convince her audience to see the power of body language as she does, Cuddy relies heavily on facts established from the observations made over a series of experiments. This helps the audience understand how one’s natural body language can affect self image and their interactions with others. She introduces the set possibility of change in self image by switching the conversation to experiments to the observation of hormone changes in primate hierarchies to show that one who puts themself into a position of power (or in this case, the primate) will exhibit an increase in testosterone, a hormone for dominance, and a decrease in cortisol, the primary stress hormone. Those primates who exhibit higher levels of testosterone and lower levels of cortisol are often found in leadership roles among their social groups. Cuddy explains this correlation with the idea that it is preferable for those in leader positions, whether it be among these primates or even the human race, to be less anxious and more confident in order to come across as a trustworthy leader.
If facts and numbers weren’t enough to convince her audience, Cuddy delves into her own personal anecdotes to bring an emotional element to her speech. In this section of the speech she discusses her own struggles with low confidence after a car wreck affected her overall IQ, leaving her academic future ambiguous. Through much effort and faking her own confidence, she was able to finally graduate and later become a teacher and a social psychologist. Once she achieved this she later met a student who like her, lacked the confidence to push herself to be successful in her academic life. Upon meeting this girl and conversing with her, Cuddy had the revelation that she herself was no longer faking her confidence. Instead, she was living with a genuine belief in herself. Cuddy faked it until she made it. By presenting this anecdote, she takes her argument out of controlled experiments and gives it a real life element, making it more tangible to the everyday person.
Through exploring multiple observations that span over a multitude of situations and personal experiences Cuddy brings to light the power in changing one’s body language can have, both in short term, and in long term.
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