In 1969 researchers Albert Mehrabian and John Friar found that a person’s state, their mood, and their emotional state were reflected by changes in body positions. In this context we are referring to affect in terms of simple gestures like leg crossing and arm crossing to indicate a closed mind or palms up and arms uncrossed to show openness or a willingness to listen. In fact, most of this book covers body affect and systematically breaks it down in future chapters. This cultural discussion is therefore important in that it describes the universality of body language.
While little research has focused specifically on measuring emotion from body positions, it has been found that the central nervous system is responsible for perception of emotion and this emotion is fed back into our body’s machinery to produce affect. The ways in which people convey emotion through body positions (or affect) is mediated by many factors including age, gender and context. Despite these factors though, body positions due to emotion, also has a cultural component. It is generally agreed that the face holds particularly universal expressions in terms of emotions as mentioned in the previous section, but the remaining language spoken by the body seems less obvious.
For example, the Japanese tend to be less expressive with their body language overall and therefore rate others more intensely on their nonverbal language. In a 2006 study by Andrea Kleinsmith and her colleagues out of London it was found that even mild expressions were rated as more emotional by the Japanese subjects over the ratings of other cultures on the same affect. A Westerner in the eye of the Japanese appears like a flailing uncontrolled windmill with their arms moving about as they gesticulate while they speak, whereas the Japanese appear rigid and uptight to a Westerner. In the study however, the meaning behind body language was still rated similarly across all cultures showing that emotion does have universal traits and crosses cultures. Thus, while the amount of affect does vary across cultures, the meaning behind the body language crosses boarders.