Known as the father of American psychology, William James’ ideas have shaped the way we look at, and understand many things about psychology, but perhaps none so much as what we know about emotion – and more specifically, just how emotion is influenced by facial expression. In her book, Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges, Amy Cuddy quotes James’ famous assertion, “I don’t sing because I’m happy, I’m happy because I sing” (Cuddy, 2015).
The idea is that how we express our bodies and the facial expressions we present, have dramatic effects on how we feel. In fact, James went so far as to say that emotions are caused by facial expressions – not the other way around. While we know that microexpressions reveal a person’s most authentic feelings – even if they are hidden to them – the idea that these same expressions can cause us to feel specific emotions, for many, is a bit of a reach.
Curious about James’ ideas, psychologist James Laird has a made a career out of proving that James was, in fact, right. In his first experiment, Laird had subjects hold the facial expression of either a frown, clenched teeth, or a smile and then rate their emotions. To prevent subject suspicion – and thus experiment contamination – Laird told the subject that the purpose of the experiment was to measure the activity of facial muscles under various conditions, and that the emotional ratings were needed to rule out any error, as emotions can create unwanted changes in facial muscle activity.
So what did Laird find? The subjects that held the angry expression did indeed report having more angry thoughts, and conversely reported feeling happier when holding a happy expression (Laird, 1974). Since then, what is now known as the facial feedback hypothesis has been proven many times. Essentially, the theory states that when holding any expression – studies have demonstrated this with smiling, frowning, and eyebrow furrowing – the emotions that correspond with this expression are amplified. In reviewing the research that has amassed since his original facial feedback study, Laird concluded (2014):
“In literally hundreds of experiments, when facial expressions, expressive behaviors, or visceral responses are induced, the corresponding feelings occur. In each of the types of behavioral manipulation, a variety of feelings have been induced or strengthened. Preventing expressions has reduced many of these same feelings… Overall the reasonable conclusion, we believe, is that James was in fact correct: Feelings are the consequences … of emotional behavior and bodily response.”
Posture is, in many ways, a language in which we speak to ourselves. How we sit, stand, walk, and hold our bodies holds great influence over the decisions we make, the confidence we have in our thoughts, our decision to take action and act in ways that convey leadership, our ability to tolerate distress and pain, and the emotions we feel. Through learning how this language influences us, we can also learn how to use posture to create greater feelings of confidence, authenticity, resilience and happiness – in ourselves and those around us.
Course excerpt from:
Poise: The Psychology of Posture is a 2-hour online continuing education (CE/CEU) course that explores how body language can be used to better understand our clients and improve their lives.
It is said that non-verbal communication represents two-thirds of all communication. Whether it be through gestures, posture, facial expressions, personal space or eye contact, how we position and move our bodies sends a message to those we are speaking to. Our poise is often a very telling look into how we feel, and can be used as a tool to assess, and even change, psychological state.
This course will explore the body language of poise – how we hold ourselves, position our bodies, sit, stand, walk, and carry ourselves – to examine the link between posture and psychology, an exciting new field called psychobiomechanics. We will look at the research on psychobiomechanics and the science behind body/mind (also known as bottom-up) approaches. Then we will explore what poise can tell us about how to detect common psychological conditions such as depression, anxiety, fear, anger, and mistrust. Lastly, we will learn the powerful skills needed to utilize poise to overcome fear, build confidence, connect with others, and call upon our best selves. Course #21-27 | 2018 | 31 pages | 15 posttest questions
This online course provides instant access to the course materials (PDF download) and CE test. After enrolling, click on My Account and scroll down to My Active Courses. From here you’ll see links to download/print the course materials and take the CE test (you can print the test to mark your answers on it while reading the course document).
Professional Development Resources is approved to sponsor continuing education by the American Psychological Association (APA); the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC ACEP #5590); the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB Provider #1046, ACE Program); the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA Provider #3159); the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR Provider #PR001); the Alabama State Board of Occupational Therapy; the Florida Boards of Social Work, Mental Health Counseling and Marriage and Family Therapy (#BAP346), Psychology & School Psychology (#50-1635), Dietetics & Nutrition (#50-1635), and Occupational Therapy Practice (#34); the New York State Education Department’s State Board for Mental Health Practitioners as an approved provider of continuing education for licensed mental health counselors (#MHC-0135); the Ohio Counselor, Social Worker & MFT Board (#RCST100501); the South Carolina Board of Professional Counselors & MFTs (#193); the Texas Board of Examiners of Marriage & Family Therapists (#114) and State Board of Social Worker Examiners (#5678); and is CE Broker compliant (all courses are reported within a few days of completion).