Amy Cuddy: Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are

Social psychologist Amy Cuddy wants to change how we think about body language. While most of us accept the idea that our body language can affect how others think of us, Cuddy has conducted research showing that it also can affect how we feel about ourselves. Body language is not only a mirror of our feelings, it can also be used to change our own self image. 

Cuddy uses the universal posture for victory—arms raised and chin lifted—to illustrate her point. Studies have shown that assuming this “power pose” can affect levels of testosterone and cortisol in the brain, which in turn leads to greater feelings of self-confidence. By “faking” our body posture and assuming a power pose even when we’re not feeling victorious, we can actually trick our brain into feeling more powerful. Her studies have shown that as little as two minutes of power posing before a job interview or other stressful situation can lead to a dramatic increase in favorable outcomes. “Our bodies change our minds,” says Cuddy, “and our minds change our behavior . . . and our behaviors can change our outcomes.”

While an undergraduate in college, Cuddy suffered a traumatic brain injury in a car accident. She awoke from a coma to be told that she had been withdrawn from school and would most likely never be able to return. Having always based her identity on her intelligence, she lost her sense of self. Cuddy describes how she persevered throughout her recovery, returning to school and finally earning a doctorate degree from Princeton. Years of self-doubt led her to adopt the philosophy “fake it ‘til you make it.” When she became a Harvard professor, she realized you can also “fake it ‘til you become it.”

Amy Cuddy is an associate professor at Harvard Business School, where she uses experimental methods to study how people form judgments of themselves and others. She holds an undergraduate degree in psychology from the University of Colorado and a PhD in psychology from Princeton University.