Tag Archives: body-language

Body Language and Signalling Power

If we are prompted to recall a time in which we had power, we temporarily behave in the exact same way as those who have been given actual power (or ‘resource control’) and believe we currently have power, too. Interestingly, this method doesn’t signal power to others: observers are able to differentiate, despite the fact that we behave in an identical manner.

The solution: subtle body language changes have been shown to make people believe they currently have power while also effectively signalling power to others.

[Researchers have] found that open, expansive postures (widespread limbs and enlargement of occupied space by spreading out one’s body), compared with closed, constricted postures (limbs touching the torso and minimization of occupied space by collapsing the body inward), increased feelings of power and an appetite for risk. […]

More impressively, expansive postures also altered the participants’ hormone levels. […] Expansive postures led individuals to experience elevated testosterone (T) and decreased cortisol (C). This neuroendocrine profile of High T and Low C has been consistently linked to such outcomes as disease resistance and leadership abilities.

via @mocost

The Body Language Resource

That “gestures come in clusters, like words in a sentence, and that they must be interpreted in the context in which you observe them” is the golden rule of understanding body language, says ‘The Book of Body Language’: a fantastically comprehensive body language resource, hosted by Westside Toastmasters.

In the chapter on hand and thumb gestures, this in particular piqued my interest:

Research into the Hands Clenched position by negotiation experts Nierenberg and Calero showed that it was also a frustration gesture when used during a negotiation, signalling that the person was holding back a negative or anxious attitude. It was a position assumed by a person who felt they were either not convincing the other person or thought they were losing the negotiation. […]

We discovered a correlation between the height at which the hands are held and the degree of the person’s frustration: that is, a person would be more difficult to deal with when the hands are held high, as in a centre position, than they would be in a lower position. […] As with all negative gestures, you need to take action to unlock the person’s fingers, by offering them a drink or asking them to hold something, or their negative attitude will remain in the same way it does with any arm-crossing position.

Body Language Mimicry and Hypnotism

Previously I discussed how body language mimicry increases affection by helping the mimicker see the other person as they want to be seen.

Over a decade after it was conducted I’ve now read details of “the first rigorous study looking at body language mimicry” and its effects. Affectionately known as ‘the chameleon effect’, three questions were asked:

  1. Do people automatically mimic others, even strangers?
  2. Does mimicry increase liking?
  3. Do high-perspective-takers exhibit the chameleon effect more?

The answer to each of these questions was a resounding Yes, however it was the link to hypnotism that interested me the most:

One influential theory of hypnosis says that in the hypnotic state the conscious will is weakened so that suggestions from the hypnotist are carried out automatically.

This is actually an extreme version of what happens when we mimic other people’s body language. In some senses, when two people are really getting along, their feet-waggling and face-touching in perfect harmony, it’s like they’ve hypnotised each other.

Eric Barker also highlights the important sentences from the abstracts of five studies looking at body language mimicry and its effects.

Reliable Lie Detection Cues

We mistakenly attribute fidgeting, stuttering and avoidance of eye contact as outward signals of mendacity, suggests recent research into lie detection, showing that these are some of the least accurate ways to predict whether or not someone is lying.

Instead, the most reliable way to tell if someone is lying is by listening carefully:

Professor Richard Wiseman […] says that common sense is the lie-buster’s best weapon, and affirms that it is aural rather than visual clues that are key.

Wiseman’s 1994 experiment […] had 30,000 participants watching or listening to two interviews he conducted with Robin Day. In one, Day told the truth; in the other he lied. Viewers could not spot the lie: there was a near-50/50 vote. Radio listeners, however, achieved over 70 per cent accuracy.

“Lying taxes the mind,” Wiseman explains. “It involves thinking about what is plausible. People tend to repeat phrases, give shorter answers, and hesitate more. They will try to distance themselves from the lie, so use far more impersonal language. Liars often reduce the number of times that they say words like ‘I’, ‘me’, and ‘mine’. To detect deception, look for aural signs associated with having to think hard.”

According to the Canadian Journal of Police and Security Services, another side-effect of lying that forensic interrogators will look for is the avoidance of verbal contractions – using “I am” instead of “I’m” and so on.

Body Language Mimicry

It is said that mimicking a person’s body language helps to create false camaraderie–a manufacturing of attraction, if you will. Conventional wisdom holds that this is because it helps you, the mimicker, empathise. This is false, recent research shows, but not far off; face and body motion mimicry actually “helps you to see them as they want to be seen, rather than as they really are”*.

In interactions, targets either lied or told the truth [about donating to a charity], while observers mimicked or did not mimic the targets’ facial and behavioral movements. Detection of deception was measured directly by observers’ judgments of the extent to which they thought the targets were telling the truth and indirectly by observers’ assessment of targets’ emotions. The results demonstrated that nonmimickers were more accurate than mimickers in their estimations of targets’ truthfulness and of targets’ experienced emotions. […] In the case of deceptive messages, mimicry hinders emotional understanding.

As Hanson says, this manufactured attraction may exist because we are signalling that we are not judging and that we are accepting what is said at face value.

This talk of body language mimicry reminded me of an article in Intelligent Life profiling Simon Lovell–the prolific con man/card shark who evidently uses the technique quite extensively/purposefully in his cons.

“You have to figure out someone’s wants and needs and convince them what you have will fill their emotional void.” A con man is essentially a salesman–a remarkably good one–who excels at making people feel special and understood. A con man validates the victim’s desire to believe he has an edge on other people. […]

Mr Lovell draws people in by mirroring their body language. He breaks their defences by entering their physical space.

*The published article in question is behind a pay wall, hence the link to Overcoming Bias.