In her TEDxTALK “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are”, Amy Cuddy discusses how body language forms a type of dialogue between the individual and the outside world, and also how we analyze the body language of others, so as to better understand how others relate to each other. This is a familiar point about the importance of non-verbal communication. But as Cuddy notes, our body language also tells us something about ourselves and it is this type of communication, the dialogue with the self, that is forgotten when we examine non-verbal forms of communication. In other words, our body language can also shape our own behavior, as opposed to body language being merely an expression of ourselves.
Cuddy makes this point by asking the audience at the beginning of her speech to reflect on its own body language. Here, the focus is not on analyzing others so as to determine what the Other might be saying, but rather, how our own body language affects ourselves.
However, Cuddy is unclear in the presentation about this initial premise and this is arguably because of how she structures her talk. For example, she gives cases of non-verbal communication where when confronted with a non-verbal communication of body language that suggests dominance, the natural response is to show a passive non-verbal communication that acknowledges this dominance. The point here would be that our body language is thus conditioned by the body language of others. However, this does not tell us about what our body language says about ourselves, but rather, about how our body language relates to others or is also determined by others. To the extent that there are dominant reactions to non-verbal communication forms that express power, for example, this would seem to suggest that this is a common reaction and tells us nothing about an individual, but instead of the predominant responses to given examples of non-verbal communication.
Cuddy then, however, ties this example back to the main question of how our non-verbals make us feel about ourselves. The answer, as she notes, is ambiguous, since our non-verbals are essentially not our own. For example, in the example of power, our passive body language is conditioned by something outside of us. Therefore, in one sense, our body is not our own. This ties in to Cuddy’s key question, “do our bodies change our minds?” She, however, does not answer this question through body language, but instead through the examination of hormones. But it is difficult for the listener to understand how hormones themselves are tied to body language, beyond the fact that hormones may produce certain forms of body language. Our body language, therefore, tells us about our hormones, but the body language itself is a reaction to something else, in this case, the hormones. However, Cuddy also shows at the same time that if people deliberately adapt poses of high power or conversely low power, is that these poses actually shape our behavior in the short-term, for example, those adapting a higher power pose are more likely to take risks, such as gambling, since they feel empowered.
Cuddy presents an engaging discourse with interesting counter-intuitive points, such as that practicing certain poses can influence how we act. However, the problem with the speech is that it is not sufficiently organized. It is difficult to follow the thread of her main argument, because there is an ambiguity to the presentations and it difficult to link together the conclusions, as demonstrated above in this critique.
- Cuddy, Amy. “Your Body Language Shows Who You Are.” TEDxTALK. June 2012.