Amy Cuddy

RS_Amy-CuddyHarvard Business School, USA

What does your research focus on?

Much of my work has focused on social categories (e.g., Asian Americans, elderly people, Latinos, working mothers) — how they are judged by others and by their own members (i.e., stereotyping) and how these judgments set the tone and content of social interactions (i.e., prejudice and discrimination). My collaborators and I have developed a body of research that concentrates on judgments of other groups and individuals along two core trait dimensions, warmth and competence, and how these judgments shape and motivate our social emotions, intentions, and behaviors. I examine how these social-perception and influence processes play out in contexts such as hiring, promotion, and charitable giving, among others. My most recent work examines warmth and competence in the domain of nonverbal behavior — demonstrating how brief nonverbal expressions of competence/power and warmth/connection actually alter the neuroendocrine levels, expressions, and behaviors of the people making the expressions, even when the expressions are “posed.”

What drew you to this line of research? Why is it exciting to you?

I’d always been interested in social issues, which is what drew me to study prejudice. I grew up in a tiny farming town in Pennsylvania, where everyone was not only White — they were also proudly German-American and Protestant. You couldn’t imagine a more homogeneous place. And people there rarely traveled — even to Philadelphia, which was only an hour away — which made it a very closed-minded culture. But I felt different. First, I always had this strong sense of justice, trying to organize other students around different social and environmental causes as early as elementary school. And second, my parents had passed on to me a sort of wanderlust — I wanted to experience other cultures and to meet people who were different from me. I was always the first to befriend the exchange students or say “yes” to the opportunity to go somewhere new. When I moved away for college, I was wide-eyed and eager to make the world a better place. I was sort of shocked to see the range and scope of suffering, and so when I became interested in social psychology, studying prejudice was just a natural fit.

I believe my more recent interest in nonverbal behavior is rooted in my love of dance. I was a serious ballet dancer into my twenties — I still take classes and love to go out dancing — so I’ve always had this innate interest in expression through movement. But it also ties to my prejudice research, because my first project in this area grew from noticing differences between male and female students’ nonverbal behavior during class, and wondering if and how these differences might be underlying a gender gap in participation grades.

Every single day I feel grateful to have a job that rewards me for thinking and teaching about the very questions that naturally fascinate me.

Who were/are your mentors or psychological influences?

Many people — but the first three who come to mind are two mentors and one peer. I had the most amazing graduate advisor a person could hope for: Susan Fiske. No one has had (or ever will have) a greater influence on my thinking. I don’t know where to begin or end: Susan is brilliant, social-minded, knows more about social psychology than anyone else I know, and was completely devoted to me and my training. If I sent her a draft of a paper, I had it back the next morning with detailed, constructive feedback. If I gave a talk, she was there taking notes and ready to meet with me as soon as I was finished. I never felt like a burden. Susan taught me how to think, how to write, how to work, and always had my back. I only hope I can pay it forward. As an undergraduate at Colorado, I lucked my way into a research methods course taught by Bernadette Park, who became my undergraduate advisor. Not only is she an incredibly creative methodologist and thinker, she also spent generous chunks of time working with me on my honors thesis — a rare thing at such an enormous university. Mike Norton, a peer and great friend, taught me how to spot ideas that would excite and motivate me; he’s a creative inspiration and a great model of a prolific scholar studying only questions that truly fascinate him. He also made me laugh at all the right (and wrong) moments in grad school.

To what do you attribute your success in the science?

In this order: (1) Susan Fiske; (2) irrational tenacity; (3) dispositional enthusiasm, optimism, and curiosity about the world; and (4) great collaborators.

What’s your future research agenda?

I’m really excited to be developing a program of research that looks at how nonverbal expressions of competence/power and warmth/connection influence people’s neuroendocrine levels, feelings, and behaviors. My work with Dana Carney on “power posing” has revealed that posing in high- (i.e., expansive) vs. low- (i.e., contractive) power postures for just two minutes affects people’s testosterone and cortisol levels, their feelings, and their behaviors. We are extending that work in several directions, looking at (1) how these nonverbals influence performance in various domains, such as job interviews, sales, and negotiations; (2) using eyetracking, differences between how men and women are perceived when nonverbally expressing high versus low power; and (3) cross-cultural differences in how high- versus low-power nonverbals are perceived. I’ve also begun a parallel line of research with Frank Asbrock on nonverbal expressions of warmth/connection, examining their physiological, emotional, and behavioral outcomes.

Any advice for even younger psychological scientists? What would you tell someone just now entering graduate school or getting their PhD?

First, approach graduate school with openness and modesty; you are smart, but you also have a lot to learn. Don’t be in a rush to test your ideas — there will be plenty of time for that. Graduate school is about mastering a craft, learning the history of your field (something that’s grossly undervalued), cultivating a new way of thinking, and discovering your sources of inspiration.

Second — and this is very concrete, practical advice — when you’re running studies, write the methods and results sections as you go. Don’t wait until you’ve run five studies to write the entire paper. Writing-as-you-run has several advantages: (1) A year later, when you’re trying to get the paper out, you won’t be racking your brain trying to remember what you did and how you did it; (2) it will help you figure out what your next research steps should be; and (3) it’s gratifying to have the manuscript half written when you “start” writing it! (You can thank Mike Norton for this suggestion.)

What publication you are most proud of or feel has been most important to your career?

Cuddy, A. J. C., Fiske, S. T., & Glick, P. (2007). The BIAS Map: Behaviors from intergroup affect and stereotypes. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92, 631-648.

This really was the (collaborative) culmination of the blood, sweat, and tears I put into grad school. I’m proud of the theoretical breadth of this work, the emphasis on behavioral outcomes of stereotypes, and I am very pleased to see how other scholars have applied it in a variety of contexts to predict how specific groups will be perceived and treated. I’m thrilled that it seems to have both theoretical and practical value.

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