“Your body language shapes who you are”, TED Talk Comment: Power vs. Humility Postures

Harvard Business School Sociologist Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk has been viewed over 9 million times

She speaks about how “Body language affects how others see us, but it may also change how we see ourselves.”  and 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”.   She specifically addresses how various forms of ‘power posing’ affect ourselves, not how they may affect others, as the latter may have both positive and negative consequences, depending on the circumstances.

“I don’t sing because I’m happy; I’m happy because I sing”.   — Wiliam James.

Pastor Randy Willis asks: “how this fits with religions/cultures that emphasize postures of humility such as bowing, kneeling, laying prostrate, etc.”   (Cuddy responds that she is VERY interested in this question)

My comment in the TED discussion, in response to Willis’s question:
In my 2006 AIAA presentation on a “Value Proposition for Space Programs” (discussing how to get people to commit to a multi-generational Space Program, a vision and a cause greater than their individual self-interests) I suggested considering “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in which the lower ‘deficiency needs’ are complemented by the higher ‘growth needs’. Maslow’s later Hierarchy included the need to know, understand, and transcend one’s individual needs through connecting to something beyond oneself.” Maslow believed that “Self-actualization preceded self-transcendence”, hence the very top of his later pyramid is “Transcendence”.

Perhaps the lower 7 ‘needs’ require more pride, confidence, and power (hence the corresponding body language), whereas the top level, the “need to connect to something beyond oneself”, to transcend oneself, requires humility and the wisdom to merge one’s identity into a “higher power”. The body language of humility helps to affirm, especially to oneself, that connection and release of the ego.

I like to say “there’s a yin and yang of everything”. Perhaps humility is part of the yin that is actually more powerful than the ‘yang’ power required for the lower 7 levels of the pyramid. Lao Tzu describes this eloquently in the Tao Teh Ching, e.g. “Nothing in the world is softer and weaker than water, yet for attacking the hard and strong, nothing can be better”.

In a way, bodily expressions of humility may, in some circumstances, be much more “meaningful” (hence empowering?) than bodily expressions of power.

My tweet a few days ago:  Why it shapes you?  Maybe our Unconscious is being programmed, by ourselves, in two ways.

1) our Conscious Decision to assume a ‘power pose’ is both a result of an unconscious intention which then “feeds back” a message to our unconscious that we, also consciously, have chosen to be more powerful, and

2) our body language sends a (positive feedback) message to both our conscious mind and unconscious  that we are in fact more powerful.

This may imply that the programming of our unconscious by our conscious decision to be more powerful may be sufficient to make us feel, and be, more powerful, even whithout changing our body language.

Going one step further Dumi Pyo asks Cuddy: Can only ‘imagining’ powerful body language change ourselves, too?

Cuddy answers:  “we’re running that study right now. There is good reason to hypothesize that simply imagining oneself in a power pose may produce similar effects”

Here’s my “anecdotal evidence” in support of that hypothesis, just one data point for that study:    When I was first learning to teach, to make speeches, and give presentations at conferences, in order to overcome the fear of public speaking,  I taught myself to imagine I was “leaning into it”, to address the audience.  It feels like a rotation of a facet of my mind (as well as my body) to bring forward what I call my “public speaking persona”.   It subjectively feels very kinesthetic, including a feeling that my face as well as my body are involved in projecting power and mastery.  It definitely works.  It’s very effective in changing my state of consciousness, and reducing my nervousness.  A cousin of mine who’s a psychiatrist told me it sounds like I’m describing self-hypnosis.


  • TED talk by Amy Cuddy:  “Your body language shapes who you are”,  on.ted.com/dRyQ
  • “Rediscovering the Later Version of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: Self-Transcendence and Opportunities for Theory, Research, and Unification”
    by Mark E. Koltko-Rivera Review of General Psychology 2006, Vol. 10, No. 4, 302–317       http://goo.gl/ZUptl

Subscribe to my blog

Share Button

One thought on ““Your body language shapes who you are”, TED Talk Comment: Power vs. Humility Postures

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.