Body language has been extensively studied and researched over the years. Everyone wants to be able to decipher the hidden meanings of non-verbal communication.
With so many books, websites and videos around telling you how to decode a crossed arm or furrowed brow, how do you know if you are interpreting the correct signals?
With pseudo psychology, many people claim they have definitive answers about body language and how to interpret it. Be mindful when reading pop-psychology articles because you may interpret things incorrectly such as thinking someone is angry when they are just hungry.
When reading into the body language of others, there are some general truths to think of. Let us explore them:
- Body language is not a “language.” One cannot study and be certified in reading body language as it does not have universal gestures. The meaning of a nonverbal cue, such as a certain gesture or eye movement, can depend on the context, the individual and other situational factors.
- Lie detection is almost impossible. There is a belief that we can tell if a person is lying through body language – that a liar “can’t look you in the eye,” or displays nervous gestures. But it is nearly impossible to accurately detect lies simply through reading someone’s body language. Although deception can cause arousal, people have different “arousal displays,” so one person might look guilty, and another truthful, regardless of their truthfulness. There is some research that suggests that there are a few, rare individuals who can detect deception at levels above chance. They are mindful of cultural considerations, situational factors and other demographics.
- Some facial expressions are While crossing your arms or tapping your fingers may differ from society to society, facial expressions do have credence in being universal. Happiness, sadness and fear are expressions people can identify regardless of cultural background. Research shows that just by looking at a facial expression, we can accurately identify the emotion that corresponds to it.
Even though there is no one guide fits all to body language identification, there are ways of understanding people’s non-verbal cues. Around people we know well, we have learned which of their mannerisms correspond to their feelings.
To learn about body language, don’t be afraid to ask what a gesture means. Statements like “I noticed you sighed a few moments ago. What does that mean for you?” or “When you folded your arms, what were you trying to display?”. Having a mental inventory of signs and gestures may make “reading” other people easier.
Compiled By Olivia Guerini, PRC (SA)