The Psychology of Body Language
Life Style

The Psychology of Body Language


What Does Body Language Say About A Person

Language is a tool for communication. When You intend to convey something to another person, you just say it. However, during interactions, verbal language is not the only mode of communication that humans utilise. Body language, or non-verbal communication, is a big part of human interaction. Non-verbal communication is when people convey their thoughts and emotions without the use of words and spoken or written language. Instead, facial expressions, body movements and gestures, posture, tone, volume, and pitch of your voice, and touch are used.

Communication through body language begins during infancy. However, most of this communication occurs below the level of consciousness. For example, you may be anxious during an exam and tapping your foot without even realising you are doing that. Non-verbal communication expert Patti Wood says that humans are capable of exchanging up to 10,000 cues in less than a minute. It can impact how a person is perceived, and how their motivations and mood are interpreted.

Read More: The Psychology Behind Body Language

It is possible, with a little practice and awareness. To increase control over your body language and to also better read the cues that others are communicating. Let’s look at some forms of body language and what they can convey.

What does a person’s face say?

1. Mouth

The first place to look while trying to decode a person’s body language is their face. Microexpressions and facial movements can communicate a lot of things. Smiling is an indication of welcome. However, it is possible to distinguish between sincere and insincere smiles. When a person smiles genuinely, the corners of their mouth turn up and eyes narrow and wrinkle. Whereas, insincere smiles generally do not involve the yes. This usually happens if a person is forced to smile when they are uncomfortable. Smiles can also convey displeasure, contempt, or dislike. This is usually done by smirking or smiling partially.

2. Eyes

Eyes are also great indicators of a person’s emotional state. Rapid blinking is a sign of increased stress. A popular notion is that your pupils dilate when you experience romantic attraction. While this is somewhat true, it is not the only thing that can cause pupil dilation. It might also occur when someone is angry or afraid. Contrarily, your pupils contract when you do not like something. The direction of a person’s gaze depends on what they are interested in.

Therefore, if your date keeps looking at the TV screen behind you while you’re talking, you know what they are interested in. A key indicator of irritation, frustration, worry, or distress is eye blocking. People unconsciously cover their eyes when experiencing these emotions. They may cover them with their hands, or perform a long blink, or squint.

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3. Other facial gestures

Arched eyebrows can indicate invitation and approachability. Also, a person with a tilted head is perceived as attentive and caring. It exposes their neck and showcases vulnerability. Oftentimes, when you tilt your head while looking at a baby, the baby relaxes.

What do a person’s bodily movements indicate?

1. Arms and Hands:

People cross their arms when they are feeling vulnerable or anxious. It might also be due to disinterest. However, combined with leaning back or smiling, the meaning of crossed arms changes and it instead suggests confidence and control of the situation. Arm positions can also be used to derive comfort for a person. So, if someone is holding something against their chest, resting their arms on a table, or using one arm to hold the other behind the back, it might be because they are uncomfortable and unconsciously attempting to protect themselves.

On the other hand, open arms convey just that, openness. When it comes to hands, the space between your fingers grows when feeling confident, but lessens when feeling insecure. Clenched fists indicate that a person is angry or frustrated, but trying to suppress those emotions. Rubbing one’s hands conveys stress.

Read More: CBT Techniques for Anxiety

2. Legs and Feet:

Legs and feet are good indicators of interest in a conversation. If a person, when in conversation with you, has their feet pointed towards you, they are probably interested in the conversation and want to continue talking to you, but feet pointing away from you might mean that they want to leave. Tapping feet or shifting from foot to foot can convey restlessness or nervousness. Crossed legs, when standing, show that one is comfortable in the company of the other. Standing with your leg crossed during a conversation can mean “take your time”. However, crossed legs while sitting, or when combined with crossed arms, can show an unwillingness to listen to the other person.

What can touch convey?

Communication through touch is known as haptics. Touching or stroking one’s neck is a pacifying behaviour. When we are stressed out, we may rub the back and the sides of our neck, or even the area under the chin. This latter area has nerve endings, and stroking it can lower our heart rate and have a calming effect on us. If another person is increasingly touching you in minor ways, it can mean they are attracted to you. This is demonstrated in arm touches, placing hands lightly on another’s shoulders, or knocking elbows.

Read More: Importance of Physical touch and 9 easy ways to cope with its absence

What are proxemics?

Proxemics refers to the type of nonverbal communication that is concerned with physical space and distance. Researchers have categorised the distance maintained between people into four zones, depending upon their familiarity with others. The four zones of personal space are: intimate, personal, social, and professional/public. The amount of space we decide to set between ourselves and others boils down to how comfortable we feel in their company. So, depending upon how they position themselves concerning you, you can determine how a person feels in your company.

What role does posture play?

Posture is one of the more difficult forms of nonverbal communication to control. However, other people’s postures can provide some insight into their feelings and personality in general. Some indicative postures are – leaning back onto a wall communicates boredom or disinterest, leaning towards someone in conversation suggests interest, standing up straight with your hands on your hips can indicate excitement and confidence, and standing straight with hands on your sides is a common position, which suggests a willingness to listen to another person.

Social psychologist Amy Cuddy’s research has revealed that not only does the mind affect the body, but the body also affects the mind. She suggests that power posing – the act of standing in a posture of confidence, even when you don’t feel confident – can boost feelings of confidence and make you feel powerful and in control of a situation. It does so by lowering hormones such as cortisol (stress hormone) in the body. She recommends power posing for a few minutes before entering a stressful social interaction, especially a job interview, which can significantly improve your chances of success. It can also help overcome feelings of imposter syndrome in a classroom or a workplace setting. She doesn’t believe in ‘Fake it till you make it’, but instead ‘Fake it till you become it’!

Summing Up

We have seen how important body language and nonverbal communication are in daily interactions. The above are only a few of the myriad cures that humans use to communicate with each other without the use of language. It can also be expanded digitally, for example, emoji use greatly impacts how we perceive the other person’s tone while texting. Increasing our knowledge of nonverbal communication cues and applying certain changes in our lives can make us better communicators!

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