It’s a famous and to some people very attractive little sentence: ‘Fake it till you make it’. You start acting, and then really turn into the person you would like to be. Is succes really that simple? Scientists say so.
It sounds like a modern way to look at life, but it’s actually a very old wisdom. No other than the great Aristotle told people in the fourth century B.C. that they could become virtuous if they just acted virtuous.
Since then a lot of researchers have shown the effect of what is called self-efficacy. This is a person’s belief in his or her ability to succeed in a particular situation. Self-efficacy helps people perform better at tasks and improve their quality of life. This has for example proven to be the case for people with all kinds of health issues.
One simple example is the experiment Stephanie L. Stolz of the Misouri Western State University put up in 2009. She made students fill out a fake questionnaire and then play basketball. The questionnaire was meant to influence the student’s self-confidence or self-efficacy. Some of them received a low grade, others a high grade. These lasts ones turned out to play basketball significantly better than the group that received negative feedback.
But these students were made to really believe in their own abilities. The question is: can we also fake this self-confidence? It appears so. Psychologist Albert Bandura published a lot of studies about self-efficacy in the past century. According to him self-efficacy starts to develop in early childhood, but is still influenced later in life.
Therapies that actively try to influence self-efficacy have indeed helped people with depression or alcohol addictions. But can we also do this ourselves? According to psychologist Amy Cuddy this is very simple: just pose as a confident person. Don’t make yourself small by crossing your leggs or arms or touching your neck, instead put your feet on the desk or stand upright.
She demonstrated the effect with subjects that had to pose in different ways. After just two minutes they acted very differently. People that took powerfull poses were better able to deal with risks and their levels of testosterone and cortisol changed significantly. They also presented themselves better at stressfull job interviews.
Our bodies change our minds, Cuddy concludes. So faking it is actually very helpfull. To know more about it, watch Cuddy’s TED Talk:
Photo: Flickr, Alfonso Salgueiro