The typical human body has about 650 skeletal muscles. Imagine all of them working together in incredible harmony, allowing you to walk, sit, talk or wink your eye at somebody. But what do they all mean?
A walk can be an upbeat stroll or a slow drag, a wink can be flirtatious or a sign of agreement. According to body language specialists, there is always some coded meaning behind it. In fact, our bodies are the first ones to reflect our emotions and unconscious feelings. It takes another few nanoseconds for them to appear in our expressions.
"Our nonverbals govern how other people think and feel about us," famous social psychologist Amy Cuddy observed in a TED Talk.
Understanding nonverbal communication means understanding other people's feelings, thoughts and intents. It can be helpful in many situations: hiring, interacting with colleagues, even romantic relationships.
Bigger pupils shows interest.
Our pupils respond to changes in lighting, so, for example, when it's dark, the size of our pupils increases and decreases when it's bright. The same processes happen when we are communicating with someone.
According to studies, dilated pupils suggest interest and may also indicate arousal. In contrast, looking at unpleasant, uninteresting things makes our pupils contract. Professional coaching business Science of People claims that advertisers tend to widen their models' pupils to make their brand look friendlier and more appealing.
Intense eye contact can mean that the person is lying.
Although most people think the lack of eye contact indicates fear and deceit, applied social psychology professor Aldert Vrij says it's quite the opposite.
According to Psychology Today, Vrij found that pathological liars "engage in greater eye contact" because they are trying to mimic the behavior we often associate with truthfulness and honesty.
What's even more interesting is that some cultures perceive eye contact as disrespectful. Ethnic Studies professor Kris Rugsaken gives an interesting example about Japan, where closing eyes during a meeting doesn't show boredom. On the contrary, it suggests that people are shutting down all external triggers to pay attention and listen to what you are saying.
Looking up and to the right is the international sign for boredom and dismissal.
Studies show that eye direction can often tell us what the other person is feeling or thinking about. For example, people tend to look right when they are trying to remember a sound (a song, a name, etc.) and to the left when they are thinking about something visual (color, shape, etc.)
Looking to the right also shows that the person is tapping into his imagination and creative thoughts, Psychologist World points out. But it can also mean they are lying. In addition, be sure to avoid looking up and to the right during a conversation. It's the universal way to say "you're boooooring."
Raised eyebrows often mean that the person is worried or anxious.
Frequent nose scratches reveal dishonesty and deceit.
Nose scratching is arguably one of the most popular indicators of lying. Pamela Meyer, founder of Calibrate, a deception detection training company, says that people who are lying will often repeatedly scratch their nose, tug their ear or cover their mouth.
On the other hand, subconscious touching of nose might be related to stress, body language expert Janine Driver told Cosmopolitan. So it's all about context, really.
Lip biting is not always flirty. It also indicates fear and anxiety.
Whether you apply bright red lipstick or go au naturale, your lips are going to send signals for others to read. Lip movements can suggest a lot of things, including tension or arousal.
According to body language expert Blake Eastman, biting and chewing on the lip often indicates fear and anxiety. It can mean that the person is uncomfortable in the situation, worried or insecure about something. But lip biting can be a sign of flirting, too.
Also, pursed lips don't necessarily mean you're going to kiss. New York City's newspaper Times Union analyzed a bunch of politicians' photographs and suggested that they might actually indicate the purser is withholding information.
Spotting a fake smile is fairly simple.
A true smile, also known as the Duchenne smile, engages your whole face: mouth, ears, cheekbones and creates wrinkles around the eyes. A fake smile, on the other hand, only includes lips, so to spot it all you have to do is look for the wrinkles. If they aren't there, the smile is forced.
But there is more to body language than just facial expressions. In fact, most scientists say our bodies tell more than the face ever will.
While it might be surprising, research proves that our bodies express emotion better than our faces. Scientists at Princeton University performed an experiment to see how easy it is to tell if a person in the photograph is feeling joy, victory, loss or pain.
Turns out, people can't really tell the difference between extremely positive and extremely negative emotions based only on the facial expressions. But when they are accompanied by body movements, for example, a hand gesture, it all becomes much more clear.
Crossed arms and legs are sabotaging your memory.
It's popular to assume that crossed arms indicate the person is distant and hard to approach. However, scientists claim it's a subject to speculation because we don't always cross our arms subconsciously. Sometimes we do it because we are cold or it's just more comfortable.
But crossed or uncrossed arms might have an effect on your memory. As Forbes contributor, Carol Kinsey Goman, reports, body language researchers Allan and Barbara Pease found that physical openness (unfolded arms and legs) increases our chances to remember something by 38 percent.
A person's feet can tell you a lot about their thoughts and emotions.
In the same article, Goman claims that a lot of things can be "read" from a person's feet. Increased foot movements can indicate stress, nervousness and anxiety. Fidgeting, shuffling and curling the legs also mean the person is in a bad emotional state.
Even the direction of feet speaks volumes about our communication. Say you are talking with someone and they're facing you with their upper torso, but their feet are pointing in the opposite direction. It might be a signal that the other person doesn't really want to participate in the conversation.
Shrugging your shoulders signals weakness and doubt.
British zoologist Desmond Morris once said that wide shoulders, just like the ones found in ancient Greek status, symbolize "strength and virility." Wide, angular shoulders and straight, V-shaped posture implies dominance. That is why we are more likely to follow a leader who stands straight, doesn't shrug or fidget.
But shoulders can also communicate joy, playfulness and seduction. According to Joe Navarro of Psychology Today, women in some cultures use their shoulders as a way to attract opposite sex attention.
Posture highly affects the way we feel about ourselves.
Social psychologist Amy Cuddy says there are two types of body postures: powerful and powerless ones. Powerful body poses are open, arms and legs spread, shoulders back. Less powerful body poses are closed, shoulders shrugged, legs curled. What's interesting, is that, according to Cuddy, our stance makes chemical changes in our body which are closely related to us feeling positive or sad.
Her study showed that people who perform expansive body poses get a rush of testosterone, the "power" hormone. Whereas powerless postures increase the levels of cortisol, the "stress" hormone, which makes us feel overwhelmed and less active.
TL;DR: We use nonverbal communication to express certain thoughts and emotions. Every move has a meaning, which is far easier to understand if we know the basics.
(Cover photo: Flickr/Andrew Imanaka)
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