Tag Archive for Emotions

Comfort and Discomfort Body Language

Comfort on the left side of the image, discomfort on the right.

Comfort on the left side of the image, discomfort on the right.

We have covered many signals of comfort and discomfort throughout the book and have even eluded to their use in lie detection. To simplify things, I wanted to take the time to cover the cues we can use to detect lying as it relates to comfort and discomfort. We have seen how open and closed language can signal a desire to allow access to the body. Ventral displays shows that a person is open and trusting of someone and this sort of response is difficult when we feel we are hiding emotions. Comfort is displayed through proximity and people do this by moving their torsos closer or leaning inward rather than away and will remove objects that impede their view so as to establish more intimacy.

Comfortable bodies open up and spread out.

Comfortable bodies open up and spread out.

Comfortable people will hold their bodies loose rather than rigid, and their body will move with fluidity. They will gesture with their speech instead of freezing instantly or awkwardly, called “flash frozen.” Sometimes people will slow to catch their thoughts, but this will be obvious to the body language reader and will come at appropriate times and in context when thought is actually required to produce accurate answers. Comfortable people mirror others around them instead of avoiding synchrony. Their breath rate will be similar and they will adopt like postures instead of showing differences.

Bodies show discomfort by increased heart rate, breath rate, sweating, a change in normal colour in the face or neck, trembling or shaking in the hands lips, or elsewhere, compressing the lips, fidgeting, drumming the fingers and other repetitive behaviours. Voices often crack when under stress, mouths might dry up producing noticeable swallowing, “hard swallows”, or frequent throat clearing. Liars might use objects as barriers. They might hold drinking glasses to hide parts of their face or use walls and chairs while standing to lean against to gain support. Liars might engage in eye blocking behaviours by covering their eyes with their hands or seem to talk through them or even squint so as to impede what is being said from entering their minds. The eyes might also begin to flutter or increase in overall blink rate showing an internal struggle.

Drumming fingers, fidgeting, kicking feet and so forth are burning off nervous energy - discomfort.

Drumming fingers, fidgeting, kicking feet and so forth are burning off nervous energy – discomfort.

We’ve hit on the fact that stress creates nonverbal language such as preening to show detachment from a conversation (picking lint), energy displacement gestures such as scratching the body or rubbing the neck or wiping the side of the nose. Palm up displays show that a person has some doubt, and indicates a desire for other to believe them while palm down displays show confidence and authority. Microexpressions can also be particularly revealing since they happen instantaneously and subconsciously. Watch for movements that happen first especially if they are negative in nature as these are more honest than positive body language. Positive language is used by people to appear more in control and polite instead of appearing vulnerable. Fake smiles are an excellent example of an expression that can sometimes be put on to appear to disguise stress. We know smiles are faked when they seem to last for much longer than what would be considered natural.

Lack of touching, or touch reduction also signals discomfort and a divergence of ideas. When people’s ideas differ they find it hard to come close to others as part of the natural fear response. Head movements that are inconsistent with speech such as slightly nodding affirmatively though making a denial or vice versa, or delaying head nodding until after speech is made such that speech and gestures lack synchrony can give liars away. When gestures are done out of sync they tell us that a person is adding the gesture on as support for their statement. The entire affair appears to be out of the normal order of flow in communication which liars can often do. When affirmative nodding happens during denial statements such as nodding “yes” while saying “I did not do it” usually happens very subtly, but is obvious to the conscious observer. Keep in mind while reading these cues that they do not indicate lying per se, but rather indicate discomfort and stress. The job of the body language reader is to decide why a person is stressed. Are they stressed because they are being put on the spot, because they fear being mislabeled, or because they are actually telling lies?

Examples of Microexpression

Keep in mind that microexpressions are useful when they appear out of congruency with other gestures or language. It is when the facial expression is out of tune with what is being said. For example, telling a positive story while smiling and momentarily flashing a microexpression can mean that the person is lying. Here are some microexpressions with respect to emotions. [note that images show true expressions which might be held for a time, whereas a microexpression will not persist, only flash quickly before disappearing]


Copy of BodyLanguageProjectCom - Anger 1Anger: Lowering the brow, flaring of the eyes and tightening of the mouth.


Copy (2) of BodyLanguageProjectCom - Fear Facial ExpressionFear: Raising the upper eyelids and showing the whites of the eyes, raising the inner brow and folding the eyebrows inward (activation of the grief muscle), lowering the brow and or tightening of the eyelid. A grimace usually comes across the face.


BodyLanguageProjectCom - Surprised Facial Expression Or SurprisedSurprise: Straight upward lift of the brows.


BodyLanguageProjectCom - DisgustDisgust: Baring of the teeth, lower of the eyebrows, tightening the eyelid, and wrinkling the nose.


Copy of BodyLanguageProjectCom - ScornScorn: A combination of anger and disgust that happens by wrinkling of the nose, raising and tightening of the upper lip. To visualize this expression think of a bad smell.



Copy of BodyLanguageProjectCom - Down-Turned Smile Or Reverse SmileReverse smile: While smiling the corners of the mouth curl downwards momentarily displaying a caught/suppressed frown.


BodyLanguageProjectCom - False Smile Or Ohoney SmileFalse smile: Where the eyes play no part (no wrinkles in the corners of the eyes as in the Duchenne smile and the mouth is stretched across the face).


Doubt or disbelief: While answering a question in the affirmative saying “yes” the head is seen shaking from side-to-side in a ‘no-gesture.’


Who Mirrors More, Men Or Women?

Research conducted in 1981 by researcher Marianne La France out of Boston College found that women are much more likely to mirror others than men, and the more feminine the women the greater their mirroring. This isn’t surprising at all given the nature of mirroring. As we have covered thus far, mirroring is a form of empathy and rapport building. Mirroring is also a form of submission because one person must initiate positions first, and the other must follow. Women are nurtures by nature and so tend to want to build relationships, one of the tools they use more proficiently is mirroring.

Further research suggests that men are four times less likely to mirror other men, than women are to mirror another woman. Women have also been found to frequently mirror men, whereas men rarely, or only reluctantly, mirror other women, with only one exception, that being during courtship. The reason for this lies in Erno Herman’s research with Leiden University in Netherlands who in 2006 discovered that the administration of testosterone to subjects reduced empathetic behavior through facial mimicry. As mirroring requires an emotional connection in the form of empathy, estrogen rather than testosterone, is a more facilitative hormone. This gives us vital clues to the role of mirroring, and brings us back full circle to the core issue dealt with here, which is that mirroring is a form of rapport building, of which men are less prone to take advantage of.

The fact, as we have covered extensively in this chapter, remains that mirroring can be a great skill in most all facets of life. If you don’t already have it as a part of your repertoire, you should, and if you are a man, should consider it strongly because chances are you don’t do it naturally. Women rate men who display more facial emotions as more caring, intelligent, interesting and attractive which is freely reported by women especially during courtship. This trend naturally extends throughout other areas of life, especially business, but a certain degree of minimizing of expressions should be used when men deal with other men. The research tells us that men tend to rate men who mirror facial expressions in a negative light, describing them as more effeminate. Along the same lines, women who adopt more serious facial expressions when interacting with men, will be seen by them as more intelligent. Thus, to appeal to the opposite sex, the rule of thumb is to use “sex swapping characteristics” whereby we bend toward the sex’s preferences to create more similarity. In other words, men should appear a bit more feminine when interacting with women, and women should appear a bit more masculine when interacting with men.

Men are at an inherent mirroring disadvantage though as researchers have found that they can make fewer than one third the facial expressions that a woman can. What they lack for in facial expressions, though, they make up for in emotional expressions through the body. Therefore, reading body cues is a much better area to consider when reading men. The lack of facial expressions in men, which might be seen as a natural disadvantage, is turned into dominance because men appear less emotional and more “in control”, appearing to maintain their “cool” under more circumstances than women. This doesn’t mean that men fail to experience emotions, because brain scans tell us otherwise. It just means that men are better able to hide their emotions from the rest of us. Women shouldn’t be fooled into thinking men aren’t listening or even empathizing with them simply due to their pan-faced expressions. Women should though, be more watchful of men’s body language, that which happens in areas other than their face, to read their emotions and when they mirror should follow what happens with their arms and legs rather than what happens in their faces which will only be minimal. Conversely, men should do their best to mirror women’s faces as best they can, and make up for whatever expressivity is lacking through other body language channels.

Why Our Pets Look Like Our Kids And Couples Like Each Other

Why is it that married men and women look similar to each other? Do we subconsciously choose partners that look like us, or is something else at play? You probably at least suspect by now that some element of body language is involved, and you’d be right. A 1987 study by Zajonc and colleagues from the University of Michigan set out to discover if couples really to look alike and why this is so. They had subjects compare photographs of married couples when they were first married to photographs after twenty-five years of marriage. The results showed that there was an obvious similarity within couples, that is, they looked alike, and it was also found that couples that had greater facial similarity tended to report greater happiness.

When couples live together they begin to look alike, and this trend happens over time, as the researchers discovered, since new couples had less facial similarity than did older couples. This was explained due to the tendency to mirror one another and empathize with our partners emotions. This causes facial musculature to become increasingly more toned in similar areas as our partners. It is these expressions that create wrinkles in specific patterns around the eyes, mouth and forehead, which in turn carve our faces into ones that mirror our spouse. With time, the even the root facial expressions become the norm for each and happen with or without the spouse being present. This phenomenon isn’t isolated to our spouses, it can be found in our children, or anyone else that spend a great of time with us. It has been said that our personality is the average of the five people we spend the most time with. Perhaps this also extends to our facial expressions! Mirroring is a very profound force in our lives and we should note and correct our bad habits in our expressions. When greeting your spouse, or children do you smile gleefully or is your face expressionless or worse, does it scowl?

The appearance of our pets is an entirely different matter since animals have very restricted ability to move their faces and the emotions they experience don’t come across to us in the same way that it does with people. So why is it that our pets look like us, but more so like our children? The answer lies in neoteny, for one, and secondly due to selection preference. Pets through extensive breeding tend to have more neotenized features. For example, their eyes are often droopy, their tails and ears lay flat instead of standing erect and they have soft fuzzy fur. Dogs through eons of artificial selection pressure have retained only a select few traits of their wolf ancestors especially in its adult form. Humans much prefer dogs that appear “cute”, play fetch, leap and bound, and wrestle to dogs that attack and kill prey. It should be noted though, that some masters do relate to this type of animal and adopt similar pets. Neoteny explains why dogs look like children, and our interests, purpose, or intention for the dog selects the breed while our own physical appearance influences which dog breed we eventually choose. In other words, we choose dogs in our own unique image and likeness because we relate to them. This is why we find aggressive tattooed owners with pitbulls, dainty pink-loving celebrities with toy dogs or “tea cups” and why tall skinny people choose bigger lengthy dogs like greyhounds.

Summary – Chapter 11

This chapter focused on emotional body language. We began by discussing New York style body language called “displacement behaviour.” We saw that displacement behaviours include actions set to preoccupy in order to dehumanize the outside world – especially in more crowded areas. The list of behaviours included nail biting, gum chewing, grooming, tapping the does, head scratching or playing with jewelry, but can also mean looking and acting ‘out of touch’ or closed off.

Next, “fight or flight” was finally shifted to “freeze, flight or fight” finally putting it into the proper order. Following this was clenching behaviour where we found that actions such as gripping the wrist of the opposite hand in behind the back, or wringing the hands out like a wet article of clothing, are forms of restraint. We also hit on nervous hands and how shaking can tell us a lot about what sort of emotions a person is experiencing.

We then moved onto poor self image and the language that tells. Here we found that auto contacts including stroking the beard, rubbing the hands, tugging the ear, massaging the throat, pulling the fingers, rubbing the back of the neck and so forth, are linked to insecurity since they attempt to provide reassurance. We hit on eyebrow lowering and that when they are permanently lowered by the newly incarcerated it signifies easy prey for existing inmates. Interlaced fingers and palm finger stroking, on the other “hand”, were both labeled as emitted by those with negative thoughts. In the section on suckling and mouthing we saw that the mouth and lips provide a target for tactile gratification to provide comfort. Here we saw that anytime the fingers go to the mouth or lips to suckle, that our target is regressing to an infantile stage, and is trying to regain the security they felt as a child.

We found that compressed lips indicate stress, down-turned smile unhappiness, anger or tension, and lip pursing indicates that a thought, usually negative, is being processed. We found that tongues can depict deep concentration or a cheeky attitude, and that sneering signals contempt, disapproval and disrespect the world over. Ear language was covered next and we learned that ear grabbing refers to “hearing no evil” showing disbelief or an attempt to close off communication by blocking the ears. Hostile body language, on the other hand, was found to be more similar to sexual body language, but only in so much as the body language showed through figuratively onto ourselves when we would much rather inflict it onto others. Examples of such hostile body language included pulling or pinching at one’s own ears, cheeks, hair, or face. Next we covered the sequence by which bodies reject and then how they relax.

We discovered that the neck becomes particularly sensitive under pressure and like the cheeks, it becomes red and engorged with blood when we become nervous. Thus when people are under pressure they tend to touch or cover it so as to pacify. Women also tend to cover their “suprasternal notch” when they are experiencing anxiety. We found that people who don’t cross their legs are generally uncomfortable because crossing significantly reduces the ability to act quickly during confrontation and exit. Next we found that the eyes and the body can block unwanted thoughts and images, that blushing indicates emotion and anxiety, and that asymmetry can show when emotions are faked, gravity defying behaviours means people are happy, and that there are six universal facial expressions. We learned that asymmetry is what tells us honest expressions from fake ones. We also discovered that everyone, no matter how extroverted, requires emotional downtime, that timid people will cocoon and that guilty people will turtle. We also found in this chapter that full body hugs, where the chest and hips make contact, shows sexual intimacy, and that light hugs, where the shoulders touch shows friendship. Lastly we covered the “hug-ender cue” or the “tap out” that tells others that the hug has run its full course and one party wishes to submit. We concluded with a list of additional emotional body language.

Agreement Indicators

The head nod is a familiar gesture that happens naturally to show agreement. The nod means that the listener is going along with what is being said but it can also be used as a tool to actively stimulate conversations. Research has shown that head nods can increase the length of time a speaker will spend talking in any given instance by up to three to four times! The length of time we spend talking has a positive effect on the level of liking we have in those we speak to. Used in reverse, nodding can stimulate more talking in others and make them like us even more. This might seem odd, but it’s true! Fast and slow nodding also indicates different things. A slow nod indicates general agreement and that interest is present, whereas a quick head nod shows impatience and a desire to interject.
Proper nodding is done as agreement is formed during conversation, and can be made even more effective by adding several additional nods at the end of the speakers point.

Research has shown that head nodding breads positive thoughts and is hardwired into the brain. In your next conversation simply nod your head and at the same time try to hold negative thoughts, or expressing negative views. Scientific experiments have shown that as the conscious mind invariably gets tired or distracted, the head nodding stops or changes direction. You will face the exact same challenges. Positive emotions are tied directly to positive body language and it is very difficult or even impossible to change these patterns.

Head nodding therefore is a gesture that has a powerful influence to those around us and can be used to create positive feelings. Head nodding creates connectivity in people and shows that what is being said, is being understood. Even if agreement is not present, it shows that a person is at least being heard which can be used to sway agreement in the future on a more important issue. In other words, when agreement isn’t present, you should still agree to disagree!

Objects As Barriers

The chair is employed to maintain distance.

The chair is employed to maintain distance.

How the environment is used by people can provide clues to their inner thoughts and emotions. For example, propping up against the wall indicates that the person is in need of support (or is really tired) which shows that they are incapable of comfort without the assistance the structure affords. Hiding a portion of the body behind a desk also indicates insecurity and we rarely invite commerce onto ourselves without placing a desk between us and our clients because we require the security it provides.

Imagine what it would be like to meeting face-to-face in an empty room. Desks and tables are more than just places to store notes! The “employee’s line” by which customers are forbidden to cross in retail stores has more to do with privacy, power and territoriality than security. What would happen if retailers could freely move into storage rooms and behind the counter, what about enter the kitchen at a dinner? The formalities of the establishment would drop significantly and it would be like being at home, free of boundaries.

The chair is a prop used to shield the body from "attack."

The chair is a prop used to shield the body from “attack.”

Even podiums creates a much needed refuge, a place of security for presenters where the self conscious can be partially out of sight, or even dodge flying tomatoes! Only those that are supremely confident or experienced in front of others will ignore the podium and instead immerse themselves into the embrace of the crowd. Women who wish to quell an advance by men can steer them away by turning a cold shoulder, a barrier, or if possible, moving to the backside of a chair which can be used as a shield. When nervous around women, on the other hand, men can use bar tops to prop up against to protect them from rejection. As you see, objects are sometimes used as crutches and at the same time indicated to us as body language readers that a person is uncomfortable standing by themselves. In other words, it tells us that they are worried that they might suffer an emotional attack so they limit their exposure. People can use chairs, lean against a bar as discussed, a beam, a table, or might simply use objects like mugs or cups, or even pens and utensils which can figuratively represent make-shift weapons. Obviously pens would never be drawn, so to speak, as a weapon, but they still offer a psychologically comforting mechanism.

Introduction – Chapter 7

Open body language creates comfort and welcomes people into our personal space.

Open body language creates comfort and welcomes people into our personal space.

Knowing the difference between open postures and closed postures is very important when trying to determine the thoughts, feelings and disposition of our targets. Open body language has been shown to be linked to openness of the mind where people are more likely to be receptive to outside view and having closed postures has been tied to having a closed mind or being unreceptive to new ideas. As in most cases with body language, there is a strong connection between the gestures we make and our emotions with each providing valuables clues to the other. In fact, it is often very difficult to separate the mind and the body language that leaks from it, even with conscious thought, which is especially true when it comes to primitive emotional language.

Openness can sometimes be confused with simply being relaxed or intense, and to some degree this is true. For example, being open often means that attire is also relaxed, shirt collars are unbuttoned, ties removed, the pants might hang loose and certain articles like jackets might be removed. Full openness, therefore, is not always acceptable. Conversely, we might look at being open as simply a lack of holding closed cues. That is, having open cues is the exact same as not displaying closed cues and is the default position of the two. Being closed requires a certain amount of tensing of muscles and therefore effort so the default of most people is having an open mind. In other words, people are open, unless they say otherwise! It follows that there are far fewer cues to symbolize openness as opposed to closed, since being open is more of a passive state.

Closed body language happens whenever a part of our body crosses the center-line.  Arms are shields that protect our torso from harm.

Closed body language happens whenever a part of our body crosses the center-line. Arms are shields that protect our torso from harm.

Closed cues generally occur whenever a limb crosses the center line of the body. When a leg, for example, comes across the center of the body and locks with the opposite leg, or when the arms fully cross over one another, we have a closed posture. There are more subtle cues of closed body postures which will cover in the next pages but crossing the center-line of the body is one of the main themes. Open postures, on the other hand, are postures that maintain the center-line of the body free from obstruction from any limbs or objects.

When closed postures are combined with other closed postures, the signal intended is made more obvious. For example, leg crossing in combination with arm crossing is much more potent than either alone. Add to this an expressionless face, turning away, and one is left to assume that communication is not welcomed at any level. On the other hand, we might be faced with someone who has their legs crossed but the arms are opened and honest. In this case, we might assume that it is a deliberate and conscious attempt to appear relaxed, when in fact the person might not be relaxed at all. It might be the case too, that someone has mixed feelings and is reserved at one level, but open at another level. Reading opened and closed body language is tricky business, but all cues are additive. Cues of the same origin, happening together, serve to strengthen an open or closed reading, but so too does conflicting cues. Conflicting cues tell us that someone has an internal reservation, made obvious through their mixed message.

It is fortunate for those of us who wish to modify our body language, that we have control of our conscious mind, since we then can modify our body language as desired.
Of course, since de-linking of our bodies and minds is difficult, these changes bring about inherent change in our attitudes as well. For example, it’s fairly easy to consciously carry open postures, such as palms up, arms and legs uncrossed, and hold active eye contact, however holding these postures necessarily leeches back into us creating open feelings.

In this chapter we will examine the vast array of open and closed body positions that we can use to come across as more or less open, as we desire. Naturally too, we will be able to identify this same body language in other people and use it to our advantage when reading them.

Recognizing Body Affect By Culture

A universal facial expression - Anger.

A universal facial expression – Anger.

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.

Age, Age Gaps, Status And Its Affect On Body Language

Since we’ve isolated women as the best readers of body language, it’s time to weed out the rest of the bad apples from the bunch. In fact, many other factors, aside from our sexes, play into our ability to read and use body language.

The first such factor is our age. Children first learn to communicate through nonverbal channels by using posture, gestures and proximity to influence the behaviour of the adults around them. If this doesn’t work they will resort to crying but for the most part this is non-directional and unsophisticated. In children, it is their body language which helps us to figure out their true desires. Before they can signal nonverbally, we are simply left guessing so thankfully children have relatively simple and predictable needs. Once they figure out the use of words, their nonverbal gestures quickly diminish and eventually get mostly left by the wayside. Children who first begin to speak will show more interest in speaking then other channels even if it means they need to interact more with their adult counterparts versus other children of the same age. At the age of three, most children have lost or dropped almost all of their nonverbal communication and are fully into verbal speech.

Age also plays another more important role in reading body language. Those people that are closest to our age are the easiest to read. Our ability to accurately read others is much lower with people who are much younger and much older then ourselves and easiest amongst our own peer group. We spend the most amount of time with our peer group so familiarity could be a factor, however, more importantly is our ability to relate and empathize. So the take-away message is that our ability to empathize with the needs, desires and emotions of others is a key part in reading body language. Empathy is the ability to put ourselves in the shoes of others and to feel what they feel.

The greater the gap in age between the reader and the target, the greater is the discrepancy in accuracy. If you’ve ever watch siblings of similar age, you know that they have an uncanny ability to interpret and understand each other. It’s particularly interesting to watch small children decipher each others seemingly nonsensical gibberish and random movements. Naturally it follows that teenagers and seniors are difficult to read by the middle aged and children are poor readers of all adults (or at least do a good job pretend to be).

Older faces are difficult to read naturally, even for other seniors. Older faces have
weaker muscle tone, and so produce less exaggerated expressions. What expressions are made are then covered by wrinkles disguising them even more. Status and occupational differences that we see everyday at work, also make it difficult for us to read others. Upper management dealing with lower management in a company or teachers dealing with students must deal with cohort differences daily and it can become stressful.

Higher status people might lack the interest to associate with lower status people and low status people might sense this and so return less eye contact feeling not cared about. This lack of empathy spirals into each party caring less and less about each other. Lower status employees may also feel envious of higher status employees and share less information with them make it difficult to develop empathy. Health care workers that spend a lot of time with seniors can develop skills and read them more accurately, but only if they empathize with them. To be a good body language reader, you have to be able to put yourself in someone else’s position, and see the world as they do.