Amy Cuddy is best known for her research on how non-verbal behaviours assert power…
I’ll start again: Amy Cuddy is best known for her remarkable 2012 TED talk, ‘Your body language shapes who you are’, which has become the second most watched TED talk, with over 26 million views to date. You can watch it and add to that number at the foot of this blog. And you should.
Amy Cuddy was born in 1972 and grew up a small Pennsylvania town. As a result of a car accident during her undergraduate years, she suffered a serious head injury that doctors asserted would compromise her academic ability. Nonetheless, she graduated from the University of Colorado in Social Psychology (1998) and then went on to earn her MA and PhD (2005) in the same subject, at Princeton.
Cuddy took a role as an Assistant Professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, teaching leadership to MBA students. She moved to become Assistant Professor of Psychology at Rutgers University, and then, in 2008, to Harvard Business School as Associate Professor, where she teaches MBA courses and executive education programmes, specialising in negotiation, body language, power and influence.
Amy Cuddy’s research interests have yielded nuggets of valuable knowledge for managers. Her most famous and impactful for many is the concept of the Power Pose, developed with Dana Carny and Andy Yap. But I will leave her to describe that far better than I ever could, in her TED talk below. Instead, I will focus on her research (with Susan Fiske and Peter Glick) on how we judge one another.
How we judge people
Cuddy’s research indicates that our judgements of people can determine how we will interact with them. This can affect our emotions, intentions and behaviours in hiring, promoting, electing, taking risks, giving to charity, and even persecution and genocide. Two trait dimensions are particularly salient in our judgements: warmth-trustworthiness and competence-power. This leads to stereotyping of racial groups, leading onwards to discrimination and persecution.
The first and most important judgement we make about someone we meet is their warmth: it is an attempt to assess ‘friend or foe?’ Then we try to assess their competence – ‘if they are a foe, how much care do I need to take?’.
Interestingly, competence in one arena leads us to infer a wider competence, whilst incompetence in one arena does not lead us to generalize in the same way. But it is different for warmth: one example of coldness creates an impression that this is our true character. This is how Cuddy describes it in one interview (with The Harvard Magazine):
‘You can purposely present yourself as warm—you can control that, but we feel that competence can’t be faked. So positive competence is seen as more diagnostic. On the other hand, being a jerk—well, we’re not very forgiving of people who act that way.’
Another generalization we make is pervasive and dangerous: we generalize our experiences across a whole social or racial group: gender, ethnicity, age, or nationality.
We also create another dangerous generalization: that warmth means not-competent and competent means not-warm. Too much of one trait leads us to suspect a shortage of the other. Hence the title of her much re-printed 2009 Harvard Business Review article, ‘Just Because I’m Nice, Don’t Assume I’m Dumb’.
Regular readers will know that I am a sucker for models and they don’t get simpler than four boxes. Here is one that flows from this, developed by Cuddy, Fiske and Glick.
As soon as you look at this chart, you can see how the people and groups seen as cold are also the ones whom societies persecute – particularly when they are under pressure – either as ‘soft targets’ or as a ‘danger to society’.
Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are
Amy Cuddy’s 26million+ TED talk that introduced the world to power posing.