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You are contagious | Vanessa Van Edwards | TEDxLondon


Translator: Ki Yun Lee
Reviewer: Peter van de Ven Hello, my name is Vanessa, and I am a recovering awkward person. (Laughter) This is me at the peak of
what I like to call my plaid vest phase. (Laughter) Luckily, my years of social awkwardness led me to a fascinating career
trying to figure out how people work. So, what I didn’t realize
is that many years ago, I would do an experiment that led me right on this stage
in front of you here today. My lab researchers and I
were curious about TED Talks. We wanted to know, Why do some TED Talks go viral
and others don’t? So we embarked on a huge experiment. We analyzed thousands of hours
of TED Talks, looking for patterns. I wasn’t sure if we would find anything, so we were analyzing body language,
hand gestures, vocal variety – we even looked at outfit choices, which made today
particularly pressure-filled. And very quickly, there was a pattern
in the data that made me curious. And after we coded
more and more TED Talks, we realized there was a pattern. Now, before I tell you what that is,
I have a personal question for you, which is, When you see someone, what part of the body
do you look at first? You can just call it out. What do you look at first
when you see someone? Face, eyes – so most people – shoes. (Laughter) They are very high. So most people
say eyes, face or mouth. But actually, when we first see someone, the first place we look is the hands. And this is left over
from our caveman days. Because if we were approached
by a stranger caveman, the first place we looked was the hands to see if they were
carrying a rock or a spear. We wanted to know if we were safe,
if they were friend or foe. Now, this actually still remains
from caveman days, and when we can’t see someone’s hands, something interesting happens. So I just did something
a little mean to your brain. You should start to feel
just a little bit uncomfortable. The reason for that is
when you can’t see my hands, you wonder, What is she doing back there? (Laughter) And then, the longer I leave
my hands behind my back, you get more and more distracted
because you can’t see them. And eventually,
your brain is just screaming, Can’t she just bring her hands off
from behind her back? And the moment I bring them back out, it feels so much better. And this because our brain knows
that if we can’t see hands, we can’t see intention. And we found as we compared
the most viewed TED Talks side by side with
the least viewed TED Talks, we found a pattern with hand gestures. Specifically, on average, the most popular TED talkers
use an average of 465 hand gestures in 18 minutes. Yes, we painstakingly counted
every single one. I have 465 prepared for you today. (Laughter) And the least popular TED talkers
use an average of 272 hand gestures. Almost half. What’s happening here? So when TED speakers take the stage, they are showing you first
“Friend, friend, friend.” You’ll notice when I walked
onto the stage, I waved. I was saying, “Friend,
friend, friend, friend.” (Laughter) And the other thing that TED speakers do – see if this looks familiar. So they come onto the red dot,
and they do something like this. “Today, I want to talk to you
about a big idea.” (Laughter) “I am going to break it down
into three different areas that are going to change your life.” Right? (Applause) So the most viral TED talkers seemed to sit in the same way
with these hand gestures because what they are doing is
they are showing you, “I know my content so well that I can speak to you
on two different tracks. I can speak to you with my words, but I can also explain
my concepts with my hands.” And this way, they underline
their concepts with their words. For example, if I were to say, “Today, I have a really big idea.” (Laughter) “It’s huge.” (Laughter) You laugh, and you are like, “Vanessa,
it’s so small, it’s not very big,” and that is because your brain gives
12.5 times more weight to hand gestures. So today I have a really, really big idea, and I am going to explain it
to you in three different ways. My big idea is that we are contagious. Specifically, as humans, we are constantly sending
and decoding body language signals. We also do this emotionally
and chemically. To explain this, I have a rather disgusting
but very fascinating study. So, in this study,
researchers collected sweat pads from people who ran on a treadmill. Then they collected sweat pads from skydivers
on their first time skydive. Two very different kinds of sweat. Here is the disgusting part. Then they had poor
unsuspecting participants – (Laughter) I know – they had unsuspecting
participants in the lab (sniffing) smell these sweat pads
while they were in an fMRI machine. Here’s where it gets interesting. Even though the participants
had no idea what they were smelling, the ones that smelled
the skydiving sweat pads had their fear response
in their brain activated. In other words, they caught the fear. This means that
our emotions are contagious. Our fear is contagious.
Our confidence is contagious. And this begs the big question: If our emotions are contagious, how do we make sure that we are
infecting people with the right ones? So, I believe that we can be
contagious in three different ways. The first one is non-verbally. Now, to test this idea, I did a very simple experiment
in the streets of Portland, Oregon. What I did is I stood in the street, and I looked up at nothing. And I wanted to see if people would catch
or mirror my non-verbal. So you can see in this video, I stand in the streets looking at nothing, and slowly one by one … (Laughter) I infect people walking by. (Laughter) And slowly … (Laughter) we begin to gather a crowd. (Laughter) (Applause) This poor woman, you know –
she was standing there with me, and we are standing there,
and remember, we’re looking at nothing. And we are standing, and I am going,
How long are we going to stand here? Who’s going to break first? And after about 40 seconds, we are looking,
and she leans over and says, “Is he going to jump?” (Laughter) And this experience taught me
that we catch emotions, and then we create rationales
for why we’ve caught that emotion. Now, this is actually a good thing. As humans, this keeps us safe. Dr. Paul Ekman has studied something
called the microexpression. It’s a universal facial expression, and he’s discovered
there are seven of them. Across genders and races, we all make the same expression
when we feel an intense emotion. This is the fear microexpression. So, fear is a really important emotion because we want to catch it
from someone else to warn us if something
is about to go wrong. And this facial expression
also keeps us safe. So imagine for a second
that you’re walking and you see a snake. Your eyelids and your eyebrows
jump out of the way so you can take in as much
of the environment as possible. “Is there another snake?
What is my escape route?” Then your mouth – “huh” – opens so you can take in oxygen in case
you have to fight, yell for help, or flee. We make this face before
we consciously realize we’ve seen a snake. Now, what’s interesting about it is you should be starting
to feel a little bit anxious. That’s because when we
see other people have fear – If we saw this face in the subway, we would be like,
What’s wrong? What’s going on? Because it keeps us safe. So I want you to try it with me. Open your eyes as wide as possible. Raise your eyebrows up. Very good. Now, take in a short breath. (Gasp) Perfect. Do you feel anxious? What’s interesting
about facial expressions is they cause our emotions. So not only do our emotions
cause our face, but our face also causes our emotions. It’s called the facial
feedback hypothesis. So when we see someone with this face,
we catch their emotion, and then we are ready to fight,
flee, or yell for help. Luckily, this also works
with positive emotions. So one of the faces behind me
is a real happiness microexpression, and one of them is fake. (Laughter) So the real happiness microexpression
is when the smile reaches all the way up into these upper crow’s feet muscles,
those upper cheek muscles. And this is really important because, you know,
when you tell a frenemy good news, (Laughter) and they say they are happy for you,
but you know they are not really. It looks like this –
“Oh yeah, I am so happy for you.” (Laughter) So try the fake expression for me first. Just try this fake smile,
only on the bottom half of the face. You can even go, “Uh, uh.” It doesn’t feel so good, right? It feels inauthentic. Now, go all the way up into your eyes. So smile all the way up
to the upper cheek muscles. Ah, that one should feel
so much better. What is interesting
about this facial expression is it causes our own happiness. And we also catch it when we see it. Researchers of the University of Finland
looked at these two facial expressions. They had participants look at photos of people with the real happiness
and fake happiness. They found that
when they showed participants pictures of the real happiness smile, those emotions caught – they caught the positive emotions, and they themselves
had a positive mood change. But when they looked at the face
with the fake happiness smile, they caught nothing. In other words, if we show up to events
that we are ambivalent about, interact with people
that we don’t really like, we become less memorable. This doesn’t just happen in person,
it also happens on the phone. So I worked with
a lot of different clients, corporate clients who are
on the phone all the time. They said “Vanessa, I get being happy in person,
but how about on the phone?” So we decided to do an experiment. We had participants in our lab
record different versions of their hello, the first impression on the phone. We wanted to know if people could hear
happiness, sadness or anger. So we had people record
different versions of their hello with happiness, sadness, anger
and while power posing. We wanted to see
if they would sound different. So I wanna play you
two different versions of hello and see if you can guess
which one is the happy hello. Are you ready? Alright. Same person. Here is a). (Sound recording) Hello. Here is b). (Sound recording) Hello. How many people
think a) is the happy hello? How many think b) is the happy hello? Very good. We can hear this difference. We can hear this microexpression. Now, I thought this was interesting,
but I wanted to take it a step further. So we devised a second part
of our experiment where we had participants in our lab
listen to these recordings and rate that person on likeability. We wanted to see if the happiness microexpressions
or the anger microexpressions or the power posing expression did better. Here’s what happened. After we asked people, “I do like this person a lot,” “I like this person a little,”
or “I do not like this person,” we found that the
happiness microexpressions across all trials for both men and women, they became more likeable. Whereas the same persons who baited
the anger or sadness microexpression were less likeable. This is the happy side effect
of having your confidence be contagious. Not only do you infect someone else
with that happiness, you also become more likeable. We talked about non verbal, and I have to talk about
what comes after the hello. How do we infect confidence verbally? So in this study
we did in Portland, Oregon, we took 500 Speed-Networkers, and we asked each
of these Speed-Networkers to go through a
conversation starter round – eight of these rounds. So we assigned each participant a conversation starter
to have with a stranger. Then we set up cameras
in all corners of the room, and we analyzed each
of these speed rounds for patterns. We were looking
for body language patterns: leans, nods, laughs,
smiles, confidence. We were also looking
for volume differences. In a really good conversation,
usually the volume goes up. In a really awkward bad conversation, there are lots of silences,
the volume goes down. And we also asked each of the participants
to rate the conversation starters. We wanted to know which ones produced
the highest quality of conversation. What we found was that
the conversation starters that worked centered on this little chemical
called dopamine. So dopamine is the neurotransmitter
that we produce when we feel pleasure or when we get a reward. And I noticed that most of our chit-chat that we have at parties
or networking events is the same. It sounds like this. “So, what do you do?” “Where are you from?” “Live around here? Huh?” “Well, I am going to go get
some more wine. It was great talking to you.” Those conversations happened
over and over again. It was almost as if
they were socially scripted. My brain was on autopilot. What we found was is that the worst ranked
conversation starters, the ones that got the lowest ratings, the ones that produced the lowest volume, the ones that got the most leans away,
worst head nods, worst microexpressions, those were the ones that we use the most. “What do you do?”
“How are you?” “Where are you from?” from a physiological perspective,
have no effect. No pleasure. So what we tried was to find
conversation starters that could spark or create
some kind of excitement. Can you verbally trigger dopamine? We found that the brain
is really interesting. If you ask somebody a question,
it tends to look for hits and not misses. What I mean by this
is if you ask someone “Been busy lately?” their brain immediately looks
for all the hits of “been busy.” They think about negative things
that have happened – the stress, the busyness,
all the bad things in their life. Whereas if you ask someone,
“Working on any exciting recently?” their brain immediately begins to look
for all the hits of “excitement.” It starts to think about
the good and happy things, all the excitement
that’s going on in their own life. And that does two things. One, it creates pleasure for them. You are literally asking them to borrow excitement
from other places in their life and bring it to the situation
that you’re in. And the other thing that it does
is it makes you more memorable. Dr. John Medina found that dopamine, when it’s triggered
in a verbal conversation, makes a mental post-it note. In other words, when you ask someone else
to think of what’s exciting in their life, the happy side effect
is that you become more memorable. So here’s my big challenge for today. Instead of using the typical “What do you do?” “How are you?” and “Where are you from?” let’s banish those
conversation starters forever, and let’s try ones that ask the brain
to look for hits of excitement. Try “Working on anything
exciting these days?” “Have any vacations coming up?” “Anything good happen today?” I think this is the greatest gift
we can give our fellow human beings. We are asking them to flip into optimism. We are triggering dopamine and excitement
and getting them off autopilot. The last way that we
are contagious is emotionally. So, this study is one of my favorites. In this experiment, they asked
students to sing the song “Don’t Stop Believing” into an accuracy software. Now, this a very nerve-racking experiment. They are rated on vocal tone, words, and they are given no preparation. But they did three different trials
of this experiment. First, they had them
just walk into the room and sing into an accuracy software. The second group got into the room
and had to say out loud, “I’m nervous.” And the last group had to walk
into the room and say, “I’m excited.” They found with this simple reframe the nervous group got 53% accuracy, the control group got 69%, but the “I’m excited” group
got 80% accuracy. Why? Anxiety and excitement
are very similar emotions. The only difference is mindset. So my challenge for you today is to think about
how you want to infect people. When you want harness incitement
or trigger excitement: ask dopamine-worthy conversation starters; use more hand gestures; make authentic smiles; and never pick up the phone in a bad mood. (Laughter) And the last thing I want to do
is I want to end on a note of excitement. I want to make you really infectious. So what we are going to do
to end this talk is on the count of three,
with all the energy you can muster, I want you to yell out “I’m excited.” Are you ready? One, two, three! “I’m excited.” You rocked it. (Applause)

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