Are Women Better At Decoding Body Language Than Men? Empathy Is Key To Decoding Nonverbal Communication
Christopher Philip

7038452711_1b521acd9f_kResent research by Monika Gulabovska University of Wollongong, Australia and Peter Leeson have advanced more evidence that women, above men, are able to read nonverbal expressions with more accuracy.

While other studies tend to agree that women are better nonverbal readers than men, few have examined why exactly this is so.

The researchers wanted to know if women were better for natural biological reasons or if they were non-biological in nature. The non-biological explanations include learning or cultural. For example, perhaps women due to their positions in society, are provided incentives to be better readers so they can fulfill their cultural obligations to, say, care for children and the elderly, or, protect themselves against unwanted solicitation or attack.

Toward this end, the researchers tested men and women on a variety of scales including emotional intelligence (EI), trait dominance, and psychological gender. The subjects filled out a battery of surveys including the mini-Profile of Nonverbal Sensitivity, the Mayer–Salovey–Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test, the Dominance Subscale of The Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire, and the Bem Sex-Role Inventory.

The results found that women scored 4.35 points higher than men on nonverbal ability. This proved to be a significant difference.

EI scores also stood out as the key to nonverbal decoding. Women were also found to be more attuned in this department.

Overall, say the researchers “EI rather than biological sex appears to be the salient factor in an individual’s nonverbal decoding accuracy.”

The other factors including trait dominance as well participants masculinity and femininity scores (psychological gender) were not found to be significantly correlated to nonverbal decoding ability. This suggests that reading body language is non-biological.

The researchers are cautious with their findings as a correlation does not indicate causation. Also, while women were shown to be better readers of nonverbal communication than men, it did not mean that men can not, in some instances be better than women.

In which instances might this be the case; that men will be better readers than women?

When a particular man’s level of EI which is a measure of empathy is higher than his female counterpart. In other words, how empathetic you are toward other people is a great asset in reading their body language with accuracy. While women tend to be more empathetic overall, and this helps them read others, it does not limit the ability to read nonverbal communication to them specifically by gender.

The research also points out areas where the nonverbal reader should focus. While spending time on learning the cues associated with body language is helpful, one would do well to also spend time learning to put oneself in the shoes of others. In order to feel what another feels, and so “read them,” one needs to be able to empathize.

Image Credit: JD Hancock


Gulabovska, Monika and Peter Leeson. Why are Women Better Decoders of Nonverbal
Language? Gender Issues. 2014. 31:202–218. DOI 10.1007/s12147-014-9127-9