|The art, or rather science, of body language is a relatively new pursuit as far as science is concerned. Kinesics, the study of body language or communication outside of the verbal aspect, is still not a formal discipline since so much is still being discovered about the nonverbal habits of humans and the many diverse things that affect it from person to person and from culture to culture (though most facial expressions are actually the same from culture to culture).
For as much as we know about body language there as many fallacies about what we know as well. Also, for every theory about a particular approach there is a theory that goes another way, but what information is right? Obviously, everyone has their own opinion on the right and wrong about every subject, every author will tell their own tale from their own aspect. Since Kinesics and other forms of nonverbal body language are not a formal scientific discipline everyone who contributes to it from other fields has their own take.
One thing you might have seen is the “eye chart”. This chart shows the position the person looks in to help determine what they are thinking about. The theory is that if you ask a question the person should respond accordingly by the eyes moving in a particular direction and if he/she looks a different way they are more than likely lying. This chart has never been proven scientifically despite many who live by this chart and by the information it provides. The real problem is this chart is just a best guess of the average person some of the time. The brain is far more complex than merely our eyes moving in one direction while we are talking to determine if we are telling the truth or not. This chart usually states that one side is the “dominant side”. What about those of us who are left handed but do many things right handed? Those who are ambidextrous? What if they are thinking of other things while they are talking to you? The list goes on and on, while the chart does provide some facts about what a person might be thinking at that moment it only tells you a small picture.
If you asked me where a coffee shop was and all I said was, “left” you would be quite confused. If I were to tell you to go to main street and take a left on 5th Avenue it would give you a better idea of the directions. The same holds true with reading body language, the more information you have the more chance you will have to be accurate. The movement of one’s eyes might tell you something about their thinking at a moment, but it won’t tell you enough to make the call that they are not telling the truth or that they are telling the truth. When looking for clues as to how a person thinks about a particular statement you have to look at the multiple things that go on during the conversation, facial clues, hands, feet, body positioning, micro expressions (flashes on the face that give away their real feelings as a subconscious reaction to information) all add up to create a sentence. This sentence of body language clues, known as clusters, can provide you with either matching or mismatching information about what is said versus what you see.
Of course, with this knowledge you still need to know what the typical facial clues, hands, feet, body positioning and micro expressions mean to be able to get a good feel for how the person is reacting to the conversation. Even with knowing that crossing of the arms many times seems to be interpreted as disagreement or dislike, (a barrier sign), it can also mean nervousness or anxiety (if the elbows and arms are held tight against the body). Disagreement comes when the elbows flare out and the arms are a bit higher on the body than usual. Then again, crossing of the arms is a habitual set of many people who use this posture since it is relaxing or common for them to use. This is why understanding the other things that go on are so important!
The biggest misconception about body language is that it is possible to tell if someone is lying or not based upon their body language. This is slightly true, but is very difficult to prove since there are so many variables within a particular person and even if one understood a person by getting a “baseline demeanor” (getting to know a person’s habits before looking for deception) there is still a chance that you might misinterpret one thing or another to cause you to jump to conclusions. A person not looking at you, being fidgety, or touching of the nose are commonly thought to expose a liar, all not true. However, there are many times that such readings are extremely easy. Simple things such as answering a question by saying “Yes” while you quickly shake your head no, or a half-hearted “Sure” with a one arm shoulder shrug which displays a lack of confidence (if you were definite it would be a straightforward “yes” without hesitation). Along with this there has been many articles and books written about particular body gestures and their underlying meanings. As I stated earlier; crossing of the arms is not just a defensive “barrier”, it can mean a multitude of things including the normal body posture of a person and might be how they position themselves in certain situations whether they are defensive or not, it might just be comfortable for them. Rapid blinking of the eyes is said to be a deception cue. This subconscious rapid eye movement releases the chemical dopamine into our system. Rapid blinking is part of a courtship gesture (arousal) and is also part of nervousness in social situations (such as public speaking) as well as with the fight or flight response (lying or other tense situations) so alone this does not mean a person is being deceptive. A person displaying a particular gesture may or may not mean something, it’s only when you can combine other parts of the person’s body language can you really get a feel for what their body is telling you.
Some people are better than others when it comes to judging deception. Interestingly, women, who seem to interact more frequently with ghosts, are the ones who are more natural in dealing with body language. Many women state they get a “bad vibe” or “feeling” about certain people, generally they are reading their body language without realizing it. It was this observation that put me on the track of learning more about body language. I worked with a couple of different women that were able to get a feel for people by observing them during a conversation and it was just natural for them. I wanted to learn this skill and have been researching and studying for a few years trying to learn what comes very natural for many people.
Seven out of ten people cross their left arm over their right.
What else is studying body language good for? Want to increase your chances of getting a job? Getting a date? Winning over a client and getting them to tell you the truth? Body language is the key. A simple method known as “mirroring” or “matching” can help you get the person you are talking with to relax and trust you. Mirroring is carefully matching the body language of someone else without being overly obvious that you are copying them. The key with mirroring is to not mirror negative body language or “barrier signals” such as crossing legs away from a person or laying your arm on the table in front of you (essentially blocking the other person from you). If a person tilts their head to the side while shaking their head to what you are saying do the same when they speak. If they rest their hand on the side of their chin while you talk then do the same (just be sure not to put your finger or hand near your mouth, this is a gesture that says “I want to say something but I’ll keep it to myself) or anything else that states “I trust you and I am comfortable with you that I am willing to follow you”. Granted, by using basic body language skills; such as aiming your torso at someone or maintaining eye contact and gesturing yes/no dependant upon the situation will also have a positive impact on the conversation. I have seen and personally demonstrated to others how this simple approach in a conversation can give the other person confidence in you and establishes trust immediately outside of any verbal commitment.
Obviously there is some science behind mirroring. It is based upon the conceptual model of the Expectancy Theory or also known as the Clever Hans Phenomenon (or even the basic cultural ideal of isopraxism). Basically, if a teacher gives nonverbal cues in a positive manner to his/her students they will typically perform better. Nonverbal cues from one person can easily influence how others perceive a particular person or situation. Why Clever Hans Phenomenon? Clever Hans was a horse that seemed to display an amazing ability to perform mathematical calculations and had other knowledge displayed by stomping its hoof to the number of the answer of the question asked. Oskar Pfungst made the observation that the trainer who asked the questions was inadvertently giving the horse visual cues to when it should stop stomping.
Studying body language will also give you an idea of what message you might be conveying to others, especially those observant women. If you are aware of your personal bad habits it can help you understand what message you are sending the world and can help you fix how you are potentially perceived by others. One of mine is carrying a blank expression too much, which is something we all at times to distance ourselves from other people while out in public (we do this at the mall, elevators, and at other times in public). This blank/neutral facial expression says, “leave me alone” and helps distance ourselves from strangers when we are really not in the mood to mingle with others. Hearing this from many people and understanding the science behind it has made me realize the message I was giving off and forced me to change this bad habit.
This is just the tip of the iceberg with this subject and I may write more in depth articles in the future depending upon the response to this one. I will have a chapter in my upcoming book dedicated to body language that will look at some of these concepts in closer detail in relation to interviewing in paranormal investigations, but much of what I have written here was generated just for this article. For more information on this subject check out these basic books which are the easiest to find and are my favorites on this subject:
Anderson, Peter A., Ph.D. (2004). The Complete Idiot's Guide to Body Language. New York. Apha Books.
Eckman, Paul. (2009). Telling Lies: Clues to Deceit in the Marketplace, Politics, and Marriage. New York. Norton.
Pease, Allan and Barbara. (2004). The Definitive Book of Body Language. New York. Bantam Dell.
Also look for David F. Armstrong, Roger Bakerman, Robert S. Feldman, Kevin Hogan, and Mark Knapp books on this subject.
For interactive learning on learning micro expressions I highly recommend Paul Eckman’s site:
Paul Eckman is one of the most well known non verbal communication and micro expression researchers and is the mind behind the television show “Lie to Me” on Fox.
Dr. David Matsumoto’s Humintell Microexpression training site (based upon Paul Eckman‘s site, but has some diversity in training methods):
I have scored at “Expert Level” on both of these sites and it will allow you to see what you are missing!