Body Language

It’s my impression that there aren’t a lot of good books out there on this topic, which is the only reason why I’d even consider reading a book like this. If a book on a different topic had provided a similar type of coverage, I’d have gotten rid of the book after less than 10 pages (…5 pages?). But I’m curious about this kind of stuff – I want to know more about these things, and if there aren’t a lot of great books out there, well, then books which are not great will have to do. And this book is decidedly not-great. I haven’t rated it on goodreads, but it belongs in the 1-2 star neighbourhood. The fact that it’s a short book was to me a strength rather than a weakness – if it had been much longer I would have stopped reading early on, because I’d have known I wouldn’t be able to justify reading it to the end.

Although the book isn’t great, it did contain some interesting observations which I have added below.

“There have been many studies attempted to find out just how the reaction to invasion of personal space is related to personality. One, a master’s thesis by John L. Williams, determined that introverts tended to keep people at a greater conversational distance than extroverts. The man who is withdrawn needs greater defenses to insure the sanctity of his withdrawn state. Another study, for a doctoral thesis, by William E. Leipold arrived at the same conclusion by a clever experiment. Students were first given personality tests to see if they were introverted or extroverted, and then were sent to an office to be interviewed about their grades. Three types of instructions to the students were given by the experimenter. These were called stress, praise or neutral instructions. The stress instructions were geared to upset the man. “We feel that your course grade is quite poor and that you haven’t tried your best. Please take a seat in the next room till the interviewer can speak to you.” The student then entered the room with a desk and two chairs, one in front of it and one behind it. The praise interview started with the student being told that his grades were good and that he was doing well. In the neutral interview the instructions were simply, “We are interested in your feelings about the course.” Results of the study showed that the students who were praised sat closest to the interviewer’s chair. The students under stress sat farthest away, and the ones receiving neutral instructions sat midway. Introverted and anxious students sat farther away than extroverted students under the same conditions.

With this much charted, the next step was to determine the reactions of men and women when their territory was invaded. Dr. Robert Sommer, professor of psychology and chairman of the Psychology Department at the University of California, describes a set of experiments conducted in a hospital environment where, dressed in a doctor’s white coat to gain authority, he systematically invaded the patients’ privacy, sitting next to them on benches and entering their wards and day rooms. These intrusions, he reported, invariably bothered the patients and drove them from their special chairs or areas. The patients reacted to Dr. Sommer’s physical intrusion by becoming uneasy and restless and finally by removing themselves bodily from the area. From his own observations and the observations of others Dr. Sommer has discovered a whole area of body language that the individual uses when his private territory is invaded. Aside from the actual physical retreat of picking up and going somewhere else, there will be a series of preliminary signals, rocking, leg swinging or tapping. These are the first signs of tension, and they say, “You are too near. Your presence makes me uneasy.” The next series of body language signals are closed eyes, withdrawal of the chin into the chest and hunching of the shoulders. These all say, “Go away. I do not want you here. You are intruding.””

“While a person can stop talking, the same person cannot stop communicating through his body language. He must say the right thing or the wrong thing, but he cannot say nothing. He can cut down on how much he communicates by body language if he acts in the proper fashion, or acts normally, the way people are supposed to act.”

“awareness of body language is often a key to personal relationships […] the awareness of someone else’s body language and the ability to interpret it create an awareness of one’s own body language. As we begin to receive and interpret the signals others are sending, we begin to monitor our own signals and achieve a greater control over ourselves and in turn function more effectively. However, it is very difficult to gain control of all the different methods of communication. There are literally thousands of bits of information exchanged between human beings within moments. Our society programs us to handle these many bits of data, but on an unconscious level. If we bring them up to our consciousness we run the risk of mishandling them. If we have to think of what we are doing, it often becomes much more difficult to do it. An aware mind is not necessarily as effective as an unaware one.”

“every American speaker moves his head a number of times during a conversation. If you film a typical conversation between two Americans and then slow down the film to study the elements of posture in slow motion you will notice a head movement when an answer is expected. The head movement at the end of each statement is a signal to the other speaker to start his answer. This is one of the ways in which we guide our spoken conversations. It enables a back-and-forth exchange without the necessity of saying, “Are you finished? Now I’ll talk.” […] In our language, a change in pitch at the end of a sentence can mean a number of things. If there is a rise in pitch, the speaker is asking a question. […] Like the voice, the head moves up at the end of a question. This upward movement at the end of a question is not limited to the voice and head. The hand, too, tends to move up with the rise in pitch. […] The eyelid, too, will open wider with the last note of a question. Just as the voice lifts up at the end of a question, it also drops in pitch at the end of a statement.”

“In literature, even the best literature, eyes are steely, knowing, mocking, piercing, glowing and so on. Are they really? Are they ever? Is there such a thing as a burning glance, or a cold glance or a hurt glance? In truth there isn’t. Far from being windows of the soul, the eyes are physiological dead ends, simply organs of sight and no more, differently colored in different people to be sure, but never really capable of expressing emotion in themselves. […] Of all parts of the human body that are used to transmit information, the eyes are the most important and can transmit the most subtle nuances. Does this contradict the fact that the eyes do not show emotion? Not really. While the eyeball itself shows nothing, the emotional impact of the eyes occurs because of their use and the use of the face around them […] by length of glance, by opening of eyelids, by squinting and by a dozen little manipulations of the skin and eyes, almost any meaning can be sent out.”

“There are different formulas for the exchange of glances depending on where the meeting takes place. If you pass someone in the street you may eye the oncoming person till you are about eight feet apart, then you must look away as you pass. Before the eight-foot distance is reached, each will signal in which direction he will pass. This is done with a brief look in that direction. Each will veer slightly, and the passing is done smoothly.” [This is the sort of non-verbal information I’m less good at applying than are most people – I rarely make eye contact with random people on the street] […] If we wish to put a person down we may do so by staring longer than is acceptably polite. Instead of dropping our gazes when we lock glances, we continue to stare.”

“In an attempt to discover just how some of these rules for visual communication work, Dr. Gerhard Nielson of Copenhagen analyzed the “looks” of the subjects in his self-confrontation studies. To discover just how long, and when, the people being interviewed looked at the interviewer, he filmed interviews and replayed them a number of times in slow motion. While he started with no clear-cut idea of how long one man would look at another during an interview, he was surprised to find how little looking there actually was. The man who looked at his interviewer the most, still looked away 27 per cent of the time. The man who looked at his interviewer the least looked away 92 per cent of the time. Half of the people interviewed looked away for half of the time they were being interviewed. Dr. Nielson found that when people spoke a lot they looked at their partners very little; when they listened a lot they also looked a lot. He reports that he expected people to look at each other more when they listened more, but he was surprised to find them looking less when they spoke more. He found that when people start to speak, they look away from their partners at first. There is a subtle timing, he explains, in speaking, listening, looking and looking away. Most people look away either immediately before or after the beginning of one out of every four speeches they make. […] As they finish speaking, half the people look at their partners. […] What seems to come across from both these studies, and others of a similar nature, is that when someone looks away while he’s speaking, it generally means he’s still explaining himself and doesn’t want to be interrupted. […] If you look away from the person who is speaking to you while you are listening, it is a signal, “I am not completely satisfied with what you are saying. I have some qualifications.” […] If while you are listening, you look at the speaker, you signal, “I agree with you,” or “I am interested in what you are saying.” […] However, there are more complexities here than meet the eye . . . or the glance. Looking away during a conversation may be a means of concealing something. Therefore when someone else looks away, we may think he is concealing something.”

“Loss of hearing and the cutting off of the world of sound apparently make an individual much more sensitive to the world of gestures and motions. If this is so, then someone who is deaf should have a more sensitive understanding of body language. […] With this in mind, Dr. Norman Kagan of Michigan State University conducted a study among deaf people. They were shown films of men and women in various situations and asked to guess at the emotional state of these people and describe what body language clues they used to convey this state. Because of technical difficulties they were unable to use lip reading. “It became apparent to us,” Dr. Kagan said, “that many parts of the body, perhaps every part to some extent, reflect a person’s feeling-state.” As an example, talking while moving the hands or playing with a finger ring and moving restlessly were all interpreted by the deaf as nervousness, embarrassment and anxiety. When the eyes and face suddenly “came down,” when the person seemed to “swallow back” his expression, or when his features “collapsed” it was interpreted as guilt. Excessively jerky movements were labeled frustration, and a shrinking body movement, as if “hiding oneself,” spelled out depression. Forcefulness was seen as the snapping forward of the head and whole body including the arms and shoulders, and boredom was inferred when the head was tilted or rested at an angle and the fingers doodled. Reflectiveness was linked to intensity of gaze, a wrinkled forehead and a downcast look. […] These interpretations were given by deaf people, and sound played no part in transmitting clues, yet the interpretations were accurate.”


April 24, 2014 - Posted by | Books, Psychology

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: