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Strike a pose: The power of Amy Cuddy

This week I was fortunate to attend the Sydney Business Chicks workshop with Harvard Business School professor and social psychologist Amy Cuddy, as guest speaker. Known around the world for her 2012 TED Talk, Your body language may shape who you are — the second-most viewed talk in TED’s history — Amy studies how non-verbal behaviour and snap judgements influence people. She argues that ‘power posing’ when we don’t feel confident, increases our feelings of confidence. The Sydney workshop alone was attended by 1,000 people, most of who were women, and approximately 50 men. Amy shared many stories, but four that particularly resonated with me:

  1. How young children can spot ‘confidence’ by the age of four, and how they associate confident figures with being male. This is summed up by a quote from Amy’s new book, Presence‘Based on research on timing of the development of gender identities and adoption of cultural stereotypes, we hypothesised that the four-year old children would label dolls in the high-power poses as male and dolls in the low-power poses as female and that this effect would be stronger in the six-year olds. …. both groups showed strong male-power gender bias, compared to the four-year olds the six-year olds were about three times as likely to see EVERY powerful doll as male and EVERY powerless doll as female. And there were no differences between the scores of girls and boys – they were equally biased.’
  2. How young girls gradually compress the space they take and how this impacts their confidence, especially in the high school years. As Amy says, ‘Anyone who’s observed young children knows that girls are just as likely as little boys to throw their arms in the air, stand with their shoulders back, and plant their feet apart. But at some point, studies show this changes: boys continue to expand and girls to collapse’.
  3. Amy identifies how women undermine their power with specific poses and actions — hunching, leg crossing, their voice, touching their hair and the use of their arms. Read this article by Amy that shows how we stand, sit and speak can boost our confidence
  4. Through one of Amy’s contacts, she became aware of work done with horses to make them more confident. By demonstrating how a horse shows confidence, they were able to help horses with confidence issues and transform them into proud horses that were able to take their position in the group. Read the story and watch this uplifting video of how horses can benefit from power posing too.

Finally, a personal observation. This week when I attended my Zumba class, I noted that so many of the moves are ‘expansive’. Perhaps that is why I feel so energised after each class. Maybe Zumba should be mandatory in high schools for girls!

Kata Petrovska

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