Verbal language is perceived by the cerebral cortex, the most highly developed part of the brain. But body language is perceived by the limbic system, a more primitive set of structures that govern emotions, mood, pain and pleasure. “This information bypasses your conscious processing center, giving you an innate understanding of whether a person is weaker or more powerful than you without them saying a word,” Maeve McDermott writes on National Geographic’s Inside NGC blog.
So if you’re in a situation where you want to convey strength or dominance, McDermott suggests a few simple body moves, accompanied by videos from NatGeo’s “Brain Games” television show.
Perhaps the most surprising power point is this: your thumbs. “The thumb is your dominant finger, strongest in motor function,” McDermott writes. “Others may see you as fearful or lacking confidence if your hands are fidgeting and your thumbs hidden.” A video showing a woman with thumbs tucked under her palms at a boardroom-type table makes the point; indeed, when the camera focuses on her fidgeting hands, you realize she seems weak.
Another way to use your hands effectively is to make a tepee with your fingers, lightly touching your fingertips with your hands pointed up. “A popular move among world leaders, placing your hands in a steeple gesture signals . . . dominance over others,” the author says. “The light touch is important — using this posture too forcefully can convey arrogance.” That same fingertip-touching pose, but with fingers pointed down, conveys attentive listening.
Other powerful stances: Hold your head high, consciously extending your neck. Take up extra space, extending your arms outward. To make the strongest point, stand up.
As you look at the videos, you recognize all of these gestures: They’re not unfamiliar, and every actor makes use of them. The point is, do you?