Body language refers to various forms of non-verbal communication, wherein a person may reveal clues as to some unspoken intention or feeling through their physical behaviour. These behaviours can include body posture, gestures, facial expressions, and eye movements. Although this article focuses on interpretations of human body language, also animals use body language as a communication mechanism. Body language is typically subconscious behaviour, and is therefore considered distinct from sign language, which is a fully conscious and intentional act of communication.
Body language may provide clues as to the attitude or state of mind of a person. For example, it may indicate aggression, attentiveness, boredom, a relaxed state, pleasure, amusement, and intoxication.
Body language is significant to communication and relationships. It is relevant to management and leadership in business and also in places where it can be observed by many people. It can also be relevant to some outside of the workplace. It is commonly helpful in dating, mating, in family settings, and parenting. Although body language is non-verbal or non-spoken, it can reveal much about your feelings and meaning to others and how others reveal their feelings toward you. Body language signals happen on both a conscious and unconscious level.
Understanding body language
The technique of "reading" people is used frequently. For example, the idea of mirroring body language to put people at ease is commonly used during interview situations. Body language can show feelings to other people, which works in return for other people. People who show their body language to you can reveal their feelings and meanings. Mirroring the body language of someone else indicates that they are understood. It is important to note that some markers of emotion (e.g. smiling/laughing when happy, frowning/crying when sad) are largely universal,[page needed] however in the 1990s Paul Ekman expanded his list of basic emotions, including a range of positive and negative emotions, not all of which are encoded in facial muscles. The newly included emotions are:
- Pride in achievement
- Sensory pleasure
Body language signals may have a goal other than communication. People would keep both these two in mind. Observers limit the weight they place on non-verbal cues. Signalers clarify their signals to indicate the biological origin of their actions. Verbal communication also requires body language to show that the person you are talking with that you are listening. These signals can consist of; eye contact and nodding your head to show you understand. More examples would include yawning (sleepiness), showing lack of interest (sexual interest/survival interest), attempts to change the topic (fight or flight drivers). Rudolf Laban and Warren Lamb add much to this about dancers. Mime artists utilize these techniques to communicate entire shows without a single word.
Physical expressions like waving, pointing, touching and slouching are all forms of nonverbal communication. The study of body movement and expression is known as kinesics. Humans move their bodies when communicating because, as research has shown, it helps "ease the mental effort when communication is difficult." Physical expressions reveal many things about the person using them. For example, gestures can emphasize a point or relay a message, posture can reveal boredom or great interest, and touch can convey encouragement or caution.
- One of the most basic and powerful body-language signals is when a person crosses his or her arms across the chest. This could indicate that a person is putting up an unconscious barrier between themselves and others. However, it can also indicate that the person's arms are cold, which would be clarified by rubbing the arms or huddling. When the overall situation is amicable, it can mean that a person is thinking deeply about what is being discussed, but in a serious or confrontational situation, it can mean that a person is expressing opposition. This is especially so if the person is leaning away from the speaker. A harsh or blank facial expression often indicates outright hostility.
- Consistent eye contact can indicate that a person is thinking positively of what the speaker is saying. It can also mean that the other person doesn't trust the speaker enough to "take their eyes off" the speaker. Lack of eye contact can indicate negativity. On the other hand, individuals with anxiety disorders are often unable to make eye contact without discomfort. Eye contact can also be a secondary and misleading gesture because cultural norms about it vary widely. If a person is looking at you, but is making the arms-across-chest signal, the eye contact could be indicative that something is bothering the person, and that he wants to talk about it. Or if while making direct eye contact, a person is fiddling with something, even while directly looking at you, it could indicate that the attention is elsewhere.
- Disbelief is often indicated by averted gaze, or by touching the ear or scratching the chin. When a person is not being convinced by what someone is saying, the attention invariably wanders, and the eyes will stare away for an extended period.
- Boredom is indicated by the head tilting to one side, or by the eyes looking straight at the speaker but becoming slightly unfocused. A head tilt may also indicate a sore neck, trust or a feeling of safety (part of the neck becomes uncovered, hence vulnerable; It's virtually impossible to tilt our head in front of someone we don't trust or are scared of) or Amblyopia, and unfocused eyes may indicate ocular problems in the listener.
- Interest can be indicated through posture or extended eye contact, such as standing and listening properly.
- Excessive blinking, or the absence of blinking, may be an indicator of lying.
Some people use and understand body language differently. Interpreting their gestures and facial expressions (or lack thereof) in the context of normal body language usually leads to misunderstandings and misinterpretations (especially if body language is given priority over spoken language). It should also be stated that people from different cultures can interpret body language in different ways.
Prevalence of non-verbal communication in humans
James Borg states that human communication consists of 93 percent body language and paralinguistic clues, while only 7% of communication consists of words themselves; however, Albert Mehrabian, the researcher whose 1960s work is the source of these statistics, has stated that this is a misunderstanding of the findings (see Misinterpretation of Mehrabian's rule). Albert Mehrabian found "that the verbal component of a face-to-face conversation is less than 35% and that over 65% of communication is done non-verbally".
The interpretation of body language should not be based on a single gesture. Pease (2004) suggests evaluation should be on three distinct rules: 1) Read gestures in clusters; 2) look for congruence; and 3) read gestures in context.
Introduced by Edward T. Hall in 1966, proxemics is the study of measurable distances between people as they interact with one another. The distance between people in a social situation often discloses information about the type of relationship between the people involved. Proximity may also reveal the type of social setting taking place.
- Intimate distance ranges from touching to about 18 inches (46 cm) apart, and is reserved for lovers, children, as well as close family members and friends, and also pet animals.
- Personal distance begins about an arm's length away; starting around 18 inches (46 cm) from the person and ending about 4 feet (122 cm) away. This space is used in conversations with friends, to chat with associates, and in group discussions.
- Social distance ranges from 4 to 8 feet (1.2 m - 2.4 m) away from the person and is reserved for strangers, newly formed groups, and new acquaintances.
- Public distance includes anything more than 8 feet (2.4 m) away, and is used for speeches, lectures, and theater. Public distance is essentially that range reserved for larger audiences.
Proximity range varies with culture.
Beginning in the 1960s, there has been huge interest in studying human behavioral clues that could be useful for developing an interactive and adaptive human-machine system. Unintentional human gestures such as making an eye rub, a chin rest, a lip touch, a nose itch, a head scratch, an ear scratch, crossing arms, and a finger lock have been found conveying some useful information in specific contexts[which?]. In poker games, such gestures are referred to as "tells" and are useful to players for detecting deception clues or behavioral patterns in opponents.
Direct eye contact: When speaking to someone this can be an indication of honesty by that person, although trained liars have practiced this skill and can copy it well. When you are listening to someone and have eye contact that generally means you have interest, attentiveness and some kind of attraction to the person.
Widening eyes: This indicates appeal, interest and invitation. Usually interest in someone or something you are looking at, and a positive response. The exception is when widening eyes are paired with raised eyebrows, which can be a shock response. Women tend to widen their eyes to try and increase their attractiveness.
Rubbing eyes: Can be associated with disbelief about something (as in checking your vision) or something that is related to crying or tiredness. Usually if paired with long blinks then it means the person is tired or bored.
Eye shrug/roll: When an eye has an upward roll, it usually means it is a sign of frustration or annoyance.
Pupils dilated: The black center of a person’s eye gets larger to let in light and smaller to let in less light. When it is dark that is one of the reasons pupils are dilated. Another reason pupils dilate is when someone sees something that is appealing, interesting, or attractive.
Blinking: When blinking is frequent it may be a sign of excitement or pressure but it is not a reliable way to tell if someone is lying. When the blink rate is infrequent it usually means boredom if the eyes are not focused or it can mean concentration if the eyes are focused.
Arms can indicate defensiveness, openness, or dominance, among others.
Crossed arms: Crossed arms are usually viewed as a form of subtle protective barrier. Crossed arms arise in situations involving a number of things, such as concern, boredom, or feeling threatened. If a person is cold, then they may also cross their arms just to keep warm, unintentionally sending mixed signals.
Gripping own upper arms: This can be perceived as a sign of insecurity for certain individuals. It is a form of self-hugging, an attempt to reassure oneself in times or situations of unease.
Arms held behind body with hands clasped: This is a signal of authority or confidence. It is seen in authoritative figures such as police men and armed forces officers.
Many arm signals are related to a sense of nervousness and are used to erect a physical and subconscious barrier to the offending stimulus. Typical barrier signals include, but are not limited to:
- A handbag held in front of the body,
- Papers held close to the chest,
- Adjusting one's cuff, a watchstrap, tie, etc.,
- Arms or hands covering the groin, and so forth.
Legs and feet
The fact that women sit differently from men has to be taken into account: men tend to have a more open leg position while women do not, so therefore when a woman sits with open legs it has a different meaning than when a man does. Leg signals are supported by the corresponding arm signals that go along with them.
Leg direction, sitting-general: When a person is seated they usually have their leg direction pointed in the direction of their point of interest. When they are uninterested in a conversation or a person their legs will point away from them. When legs are crossed the upper knee dictates what they are interested in or disinterested in.
Uncrossed legs, sitting-general: When legs are uncrossed that generally means they have an open attitude no matter if it is male or female.
Parallel legs: Legs together generally mean properness when it is concerning a female, this is a very unusual stance in males. This can be due to the female’s upbringing.
Open legs, sitting: This is mainly a male posture; this can be associated with arrogance, sexual posturing or combative feelings. This is not usually seen in women, especially when in skirts. This is considered to be combative because it makes the person look bigger than they really are. Confidence signals are increased when arms are open and wide.
Ankle lock: This is considered to be a negative signal and may mean defensiveness in both men and women.
Standing ‘at attention’: this means someone is standing upright with their shoulders back and arms by side. This is a military position and considered to be a signal of respect and subservience when in the presence of someone in authority.
Legs intertwined, sitting: This is usually a female stance. Depending on what is going on this can mean insecurity or sexual posing. This would be considered sexual posing because the tight crossed leg would tend to emphasize the muscle and tone of the leg. This should be assessed while also interpreting other body signals.
Legs crossed, standing: This is different than when legs are crossed when sitting. This may mean insecurity or/submission or engagement. When legs and arms are crossed it usually means less confident and insecure when just the legs are crossed but arms are open it can mean a committed agreement to stand and engage with the other person.
- Gesture recognition
- List of gestures
- Origin of language
- Origin of speech
- Posture (psychology)
- Paul Ekman
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Body language.|
- Body language is of particular importance in large groups by Tarnow, E. published 1997
- Hess Pupil Dilation Findings: Sex or Novelty? Social Behavior and Personality, 1998 by Aboyoun, Darren C, Dabbs, James M Jr
- Understanding body language
- A lecture discussing scientific studies on how one's own body language influences oneself.