Can you tell me how gloomy and sad people walk? That’s an easy one, you say. They usually have their head down, their shoulders are hunched, and they walk slowly with little arm movement. The way they are walking is a perfect reflection of how they are feeling. But what if it were true when it is the other way round? If people walk with a brisk pace and shoulders back as if they were happy, can that actually improve their mood? Happily, the answer is yes! This is the conclusion of researchers who wanted to see if faking a confident posture will really help you feel better.
“We don’t just fake it ’til we make it, we fake it ’til we become it.” — Amy Cuddy, psychologist, Harvard University
Poses affect how we feel
Researchers looked at animal and human poses, and the differences between power-focused poses and those of hopelessness were evident. There are numerous examples of this: A peacock fans its tail and struts when seducing a female, the CEO of a company sits back with his hands behind his neck with elbows pointing outwards while his feet rest on the desk, depressed people will usually display a pose which is closed, hunched down, and an indicative of powerlessness. This is also evident while walking. The next time you walk, note your posture and your mood. There is a real connection, it seems.
The researchers were able to show that there were indeed physiological effects, such as changes in testosterone and cortisol levels, which matched the pose and the way people walked. They also noted that there were corresponding behavioral, physiological, and psychological changes. They knew that other research studies show that low-power people have generally bad physical and mental health. They also tend to have poorer memory and immunity.
How the research was carried out
Participants in the study were asked to look at a list of words which contained positive ones such as “happy” and negative ones such as “anxious.” They were then asked to walk on a treadmill. Their walking style was manipulated by researchers and noted. Afterwards, they were asked to remember the words they had been shown. Those who had been walking in a depressed fashion with less arm movement had better recall of all the words but tended to remember more of the negative words. The subjects who had walked with a happier gait had better recall of the more positive words.
The researchers had found enough evidence to justify their claim that a happier posture may have an important role in creating positive moods and energy.
How this research can help with treatment for depression
In another study, the participants were primed with lots of words connected with old age and infirmity. They were then asked to walk down a hallway and they did so more slowly than the control participants.
It is well known that patients suffering from severe depression tend to remember negative events rather than positive ones. The bad memories make them feel worse.
“If you can break that self-perpetuating cycle, you might have a strong therapeutic tool to work with depressive patients.” — Prof. Nikolaus Troje, study co-author
Exercise is the most underutilized treatment for depression. If patients are encouraged to walk with a confident gait, they can reap even more benefits. The movement is encouraging the neurotransmitters and endorphins which will improve their sense of confidence. The happier posture will help them to become less depressed, more positive, and more energetic.
The next time you want to improve your mood, why not put a bounce in your step and see what happens. Just don’t fall!
“If I could not walk far and fast, I think I should just explode and perish.” — Charles Dickens
Featured photo credit: Antonio Foncubierta/Flickr via flickr.com