You are probably familiar with all the ways that we communicate non-verbally to other people through our body posture, our hand gestures and facial expressions. But you may not be aware of how strongly you are communicating not only to others, but to yourself.
I'm not talking about how your body reacts to how you feel. You probably know that already—when you are having a great day, and you feel on top of the world, you smile, walk energetically, stand erect and maybe even gesture largely with your hands. When you are having a bad day, and you feel like the world is getting you down, you hunch over and frown.
No, I'm talking about something much more radical. The communication between your body posture and your feelings also goes the other way. You can change the way you feel based on how you hold your body. You can change your brain chemistry, and the actions you take or don't take.
Botox Zombies. Botox is a popular cosmetic procedure to reduce facial wrinkles. Botox is injected into various muscles, for instance in the face, and it paralyzes the muscles, thereby causing the wrinkles to “relax." It’s been known for a while that one of the side effects of Botox treatments are that people can’t fully express emotions (for example, they can’t move the muscles that would show they were angry, or even happy). New research shows that one of the side effects is the opposite—people who have Botox injections can’t feel emotions as well either. If you can’t move your muscles to make a facial expression you can’t feel the emotion that goes with the expression. So if you have recently received a Botox injection and you go to a movie that is sad, you will not feel sad because you won’t be able to move the muscles in your face that go with feeling sad. Moving muscles and feeling emotions are linked.
Smile And You Can't Feel Angry. David Havas (2010) gave people instructions to contract specific muscles—the muscles used in smiling. When the participants contracted those muscles they had a hard time generating a feeling of anger. When he instructed them to contract the muscles that are used when you frown, the participants had a hard time feeling friendly or happy.
Change Your Life In Two Minutes—Going even further, Amy Cuddy has researched how large body postures change brain and body chemistry. When people sit or stand with their bodies taking up space, arms expanded, legs open, they produce more testosterone and less stress hormones. They are also more likely to take risks. In her research she has people take large body postures for two minutes before they do things like go for a job interview. The results are quite astounding. Striking a "large body" pose for two minutes resulted in different behavior, and therefore signficant changes in their lives. You can watch her excellent TED talk here:
What do you think? Have you tried purposely striking a "large posture" pose before an important meeting or presentation?
Here's the research:
Havas, David A., Glenberg, A. M., Gutowski, K. A., Lucarelli, M. J., and Davidson, R. J. 2010. “Cosmetic use of botulinum toxin-A affects processing of emotional language.” Psychological Science 21(7): 895–900.