Saturday, March 30, 2013

Power Poses and Power Thoughts

“Our bodies change our minds
…And our minds change our behavior
…And our behavior changes our outcomes.”
- Amy Cuddy

This morning, I watched a TED Talk by Amy Cuddy on nonverbal communication (body language). Her talk focused on using “power poses” to alter the way one feels about oneself. 
5 Power Poses (Photo used in Amy Cuddy's TED Talk)

She described experiments in which test subjects maintained either a power pose or powerless pose (folded in, hunched over, protecting one’s abdomen or neck) for 2 minutes. Their testosterone and cortisol levels were measured before and after the experiment as a measure of the physiologic effects of the posing. In power pose subjects, cortisol decreased and testosterone increased from baseline, while the opposite occurred in the powerless posers. 
I am very interested in how we can use our minds to alter our feelings, bodies, and circumstances. There are countless examples of how this is practiced: deep breathing, meditation, biofeedback, affirmations, etc., etc., etc.
The talk became even more interesting when Cuddy pointed out that all seeing and congenitally blind people adopt the same pose when they win an athletic competition: arms raised up in a “V” with the chin tilted up. Because individuals who were born blind adopt this pose, we can infer that this action is pre-programmed, as they did not learn the behavior by observing others perform it.
This reminded me of our neuroscience lectures this week, in which we’ve been learning about the motor cortex. Here’s an excerpt from one lecture:
“Stimulation of premotor cortex or the supplementary motor area
 requires higher levels of current to elicit movements, and often
results in more complex movements than stimulation of primary
motor cortex. Stimulation for longer time periods (500 msec) in
monkeys results in the movement of a particular body part to a
stereotyped posture or position, regardless of the initial starting point of the body part.”

(“Motor Cortex,” Michael Beauchamp, PhD, University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston Medical School, Block 3 Neuroscience Syllabus)
Basically, what this means is that no matter what position a monkey (or person) is sitting in, continuous stimulation of a specific area of the brain results in a specific pose—for example, bringing the hand to the mouth, as in feeding. These postures are consistent between animals; so, a certain area on every monkey’s brain controls climbing motions.
This sounds a lot like the victory pose, no? When we realize that we’ve won a competition, it must stimulation a specific part of our motor cortex, leading to the adoption of the victory pose.
We also learned about neuroprosthesis this week.  To put it as simply as possible, we can implant an electrode/receptor in the motor cortex of a patient who is quadriplegic. Instead of the electrode stimulating the brain and forcing the person to move (which can’t happen when the spinal cord has been severed), the patient by thinks about moving and causes the motor cortex area to fire. These neuronal firings can be used to control an external device, like a computer program, mechanical arm or wheelchair. That is the power of thought!

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