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Embodied Persuasion


Explanations > Understanding body language > Embodied Persuasion

What it is | How it works | Research | And...So what?


What it is

Embodiment is the transfer of inner thoughts and feelings into structures and movements of the body. In other words, it is the process by which we create what is commonly call 'body language'.

Embodied persuasion is a kind of reversal of this, where how the body moves and is held has an effect on attitudes and other internal processes. An implication of this is that we may be able to change how we think simply by changing how the body is held.

How it works

When we seek to persuade, we often do this by first trying to affect how the person thinks or feels. Embodied persuasion starts with the action, getting them to do things that lead directly to them feeling or thinking differently.

When action leads to a change in thinking, values and beliefs, this works through the consistency principle, where we have to explain to ourselves why we are doing what we are doing, and conclude that it must be because it is the right thing to do. When action leads directly to a change in emotion, then this happens through a subconscious process.

Brinol and Petty (2008) note that 'the body contributes to the acquisition, change and use of attitudes' and describe mechanisms that include:

  • Cues: Body language as a cognitive cue (especially when there is limited thinking), or basic association, such as conditioning, where body changes becomes paired with emotions.
  • Extent of thinking: Where the person may notice the body and think more about why the feeling is being experienced.
  • Direction of thinking: Where the person thinks about different things, for example where emotions are deduced from events and body feelings.
  • Confidence: Where body shapes and positions relative to others give a sense of power or inferiority.


There has been much research on this subject, for example:

  • Valins (1966) found that a faked higher heart rate led to greater liking.
  • Petty et al. (1983) found that people evaluating headphones when lying down were more unbiased and thoughtful than when standing up.
  • Strack, Martin, and Stepper (1988) got people to like cartoons more by forcing a smile (holding pen between teeth) in comparison a straight face (holding pen between lips).
  • Tom, et al. (1991) found nodding/shaking the head caused increased/decreased preference for a previously neutral object (a pen).
  • Cacioppo, Priester, and Berntson (1993) conditioned pull-in/push-out arm movement with positive and negative evaluations.


People physically higher than others feel more powerful. This leads 'standing tall' to make a person feel more confident. Using dominant body language can make a person feel more dominant. The reverse can also be true

A classic method used in sales is to create bond with the customer, typically through similarity, then lead them to the close through body language, such as sitting, moving, holding pens, opening and closing the body, etc.

So what?

One way of persuading is to get others to move their bodies into positions and places which will affect how they feel and think. Do this carefully and with an understanding of how much they are thinking or not (either of which may be desirable).

See also

Two-Factor Theory of Emotion, Body as Cue, Evidence, Persuasion, Self-Perception Theory


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