Tag Archive for Personality Traits

Types Of Bad Handshakes

The handshake is a very common greeting gesture performed all around the world and up until recently the style with which they were delivered was anecdotally believe to predict personality traits the people who did them. Does the “bone crusher” or “wet fish” handshaker really convey that a person is aggressive or timid? Research conducted in 2000 by Dr. William Chaplin from the University of Alabama set out to get some facts straight about what the handshake really means. He found one hundred twelve students to be a part of his study but kept the purpose of it a secrete. They were simply told there were four parts to the experiment, and they’d be dismissed and welcomed to each part with a handshake in addition to other formalities. Four of the researchers, two men and two women were trained for a month on how to perform certain handshakes.

The researchers had students stand next to smaller rooms and as they entered they greeted them by shaking their hand and then proceeded into the room to fill out a questionnaire. The researchers found that a firm handshake was related to extroversion and emotional expressiveness rather than shyness and neuroticism. Women were also rated as more open to experiences when they used a firm handshake. The results show that our handshakes reveal a lot about our personalities. Women with strong handshakes can equalize themselves alongside men in the workplace and bring more favourable initial ratings from others. While an assertive attitude can be considered “pushy” especially in women, a firm handshake is an acceptable technique to show confidence without appearing too aggressive. According to Dr. Chaplin a firm handshake is a safe place for women to show their dominance in the workplace. They also happen automatically, we don’t consciously think about them and therefore we don’t often realize how good or bad our handshake really is. However, this also means we can tell a lot about people from how they shake hands because, chances are, it’s what occurs naturally to them. While men overall have firmer handshakes, the study shows us that women can level the ground simply by stepping up their firmness.

OK vs. Not Ok Personality Traits

Dr. Eric Berne, the founder of the psychological school of Transactional Analysis (abbreviated TA) coined the terms “OK” and “Not OK” to describe two essential types of people. The “OK” types are secure and confident in who they are and carry little emotional “baggage” whereas the “Not OK” types are insecure about themselves and often feel inferior. Dr. Berne also helped to define certain terms that were important in studying social interaction. When two people meet eventually one of the persons will acknowledge the presence of the other person. He called this the “transactional stimulus” where a “transaction” refers to a conversation between people. When people interact to each other, they talk or express nonverbal body communication, they issue a “transactional response”. Those that are (obsessively) interested in social dynamics often begin to think of interactions down to the unit. These definitions, however, are merely presented for interest sake, since for our purpose they aren’t terribly important.

Berne’s approach was much different from that of Freud who though perhaps too simplistically, that he could learn everything about someone just by asking them, and then listening to their response. Berne felt that therapists could learn more about people by watching their body language and facial expressions instead of words by themselves.

Eric Berne published a very popular and interesting book called Games People Play in 1964. To date it has sold over five million copies. The book describes the function and dysfunction that happens in human interactions. Without getting into too much detail, let’s look at one example of a game.

The example I wanted to bring forward makes light of how we control our interactions with people by the tone and words we choose. As a boss, if we attack an employee by taking up a controlling “parental” role we will normally elicit a childish tantrum in return. The real way to deal with adult situations is to attack them from a constructive integrity based position where we act like “adults”. Adult actions normally yield adult responses, but as we see in Berne’s book, not everyone uses the best framework to work through life. As he sees it, some people get stuck between three ego states, the “Parent”, “Child” and “Adult”. Berne outlines well over ninety games that people play, some good, but mostly bad. He defines games as social interactions that are counterproductive. Today, there are few ardent followers that use the TA approach in any rigid way, even the ego states have been scrutinized, however, the principles of the method do help us look at how we run our lives and the ways we hold ourselves back through games we play with ourselves and others. He also ran a results-based framework which was new to psychiatry at the time and says that if it’s not working for you and you aren’t getting the results you want, change it!

How Fortune Tellers Are Like Hans The Horse

There's an entire subtext of information just waiting to be read!

There’s an entire subtext of information just waiting to be read!

Fortune tellers are particularly adept at intuitively reading other people’s body language, even if they aren’t consciously aware of their talent. In fact, most fortune tellers will probably deny that they use any body language at all in their predictions. However, after reading this book, follow along with them and you will see that it’s fairly easy to read along with them, or at least follow their train of thought as they pull at straws. You can often tell when the person being read gives off certain clues to indicate (perhaps subconsciously) when they are on the right track. A large part of telling fortunes relies on people’s natural desires to please others, and in this respect, willing participants are fairly generous.

In the late 1800’s a German based high school teacher Von Osten was studying phrenology which is a now discredited theory that intelligence, character and personality traits are based on the shapes and bumps on someone’s head. Van Osten was also interested in the study of animal intelligence and believed that people had underestimated the reasoning skills of animals. That’s when he began tutoring a cat, horse and a bear in the ways of mathematics. Predictably, the cat was aloof to his teachings and the bear was downright hostile, but the stallion named Hans showed promise. With more focused lessons, Hans was able to learn to use his hoof to tap out numbers written on a blackboard. With practice, Hans was reliably able to perform this ‘feet’ for any number under ten.

The Curious Case of Clever Hans.  Credit: Public Domain.

“Unconscious cuing” has been reported in more than just a horse. ‘The Curious Case of Clever Hans’ has lead psychologists and animal communication experts to look for the phenomenon in dogs who follow their owners’ facial expressions. Photo credit: Public Domain.

Von Osten steeped things up a notch by drawing out basic arithmetic problems such as square roots, and fractions. To Van Osten’s delight, Hans was able to keep up with the new teachings and proved to be a very clever horse which helped to maintain Von Osten’s original assertions about animal intelligence. Happy with his progress, Von Osten began to tour Germany with Hans so that others could enjoy his talents.

Han’s could answer simple questions such as “What is the square root of sixteen?” by following up with four taps, “What is the sum of two and three?” with five taps coming from Hans. Hans was also capable of spelling out words with each tap representing a letter of the alphabet in sequence. Thus, an “a” would be one tape and a “b” would be two taps. While Hans wasn’t always one hundred percent accurate he was on par with an average highschooler’s scores, which impressed his crowds.

Naturally, skeptics grew larger and larger. Germany’s board of education then requested an investigation into Hans’ abilities. Von Osten agreed as he had nothing to hide and knew there was no fraud to expose. The ‘Hans Commission’ was assembled including zoologists, psychologist, a horse trainer, several school teachers and a circus manger. After extensive testing, however, they concluded that there was no trickery involved and that Hans’ responses where genuine.

Having found no trickery the Commission passed the investigation onto Oskar Pfungst, a psychologist. He had some unique ideas on how to get to the bottom of things. As usual, Hans answered all the questions posed by Von Osten well under normal conditions but when asked to step further away however, Hans’s success rate dropped inexplicably. The success rate also dropped to close to zero when the questioner wasn’t himself aware of the answer. The same result came when the questioner was hidden from view. Hans’ success therefore, was severely tied to his ability to see the person who knew the correct answer.

Pfungst continued the research but turned his focus onto the people that were interacting with Hans. He noticed that there were differences in breathing, posture and facial expressions as Hans tapped out his answer. As Hans neared to correct answer, the handlers would increase the tension they held in their body language which would tip off Hans. Once the final tap had been made, the tension suddenly disappeared from the person and so Hans took this cue to mean it was time to stop tapping.

While Hans was discredited from being able to do math, he was very learned at reading human body language. It revealed that horses had a keen ability to read non verbal cues perhaps as part of their social interactions with other horses throughout their evolution. Hans’ ability to read body language might also help explain why horse whisperers are able to “talk” to horses. Von Osten never fully accepted this explanation and continued to tour Germany with his show and remained quite successful even though Hans never really had any comprehension of math.

What fortune tellers do isn’t much different from what Hans’ the horse did. Tellers are able to pick up on subtle body language clues and navigate these cues throughout a reading. They pick up on small gestures that indicate they are on the right track which further fuels them and induces the person being read to loosen up. They also rely on probability statistics to make educated guesses and knowledge of human nature and psychology. What makes them even more believable is the fact that some aren’t even consciously aware of their ability to read body language which helps them keep their techniques a secret. This gives them an advantage in fooling the gullible since it’s much easier to deceive others when you first have yourself convinced. People being read also have a positive expectation that they will be read correctly and play into readers more readily often being quite charitable even when their predictions are only remotely accurate. It would be much harder for a reader to accurately read a skeptic, but any good teller will avoid reading these people. Fortune tellers have also been accused of being vague and general which could be accurate for just about anyone. Fortune tellers hit on many different subjects often contradicting themselves until they hit on information that sticks.

So before you get taken by a fortune teller remember how Hans and his owner where able to amaze so many. Even after the tests showed that Hans was reading his master’s body language his show continued to go on for years un-deterred and even grew more in popularity as time passed.

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