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Reading Body Language - Para Language

How words are pronounced by somebody is most important than what they literally mean. There’s strong relation between our emotional state and clues we convey through pronunciations. This relation is studied under a branch of science, which is called as PARA LANGUAGE. 
 
Emotions and feelings can be conveyed and interpreted with the help of voice only. In fact, some of us are more skilled in understanding emotions by listening to voice and not watching facial expressions.

Humans have well developed system for creating different sounds by varying tone, volume, pitch and annotations. Torso, throat, oral cavity, lips, jaws, tongue and facial muscles play different roles in vocal articulation. Immunity, level of energy, body mass, endurance and hormones also have large impact on voice. Kind of sound we create while speaking is identical to making a signature on paper.

As like paying keen attention to body language clues, listening to voice also gives insight of person’s emotional and also physical state. Emotional and homeostatic processes too are deciding factors in same. We can understand emotional and state too by listening to speech of a person. Can we reverse direction of this process?

Let's try to figure out that how each person shown below would likely to pronounce words or create sound just by looking at its body language in a given situation.

What kind of sound each person would make?
1) A police officer who is standing upright and looking dominant - bluffed chest, stiff neck and hands on put hips or hold on back. He would be able to talk in firm tone and uniform pitch very easily.

2) A lonely lady who looks physical exhausted and trying to console herself. She would speak in monotonous and sluggish voice (on telephone) because she is sad or exhausted.

3) A boy who is making merry, playing, jumping and dancing. He would laugh or twitter sound in joyous tone. It's play time for him without any external interference.

4) A lady who is sharing something with other person by sitting very closely to it. They are not making any gestures and meeting gaze with others. She must be whispering in a secretive low tone. Highly private gossip!

5) A couple who is making aggressive gestures, clenching fists, bearing teeth, crossing hands on chests and fiercely gazing towards each other. Definitely, they would yelling and shouting on each other.

6) A salesman who has leaned forward and titled neck at one side, He has put on smiley face while speaking. He must be buttering up your boss to place an order or sign a contract.

Ability to decipher emotions based upon para linguistic clues is most useful especially when we cannot observe somebody face to face.

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Reading Body Language - Micro Expressions

Lie to Me (the world famous TV serial) made common people aware about how ability to detect tiniest movements of facial muscles could bring dramatic turn while interrogating suspects. Bringing a criminal into confessing crime it committed isn't easy because it tries to defend itself from being detected by law and enforcement agency.
 
Investigators and forensic experts have to pick tiniest clues not only at actual crime scene but also right on the faces of people they interrogate or try to get information from.


A micro-expression or micro-momentary facial expression is nothing but movements of different facial expressions that unconsciously occurs within fraction of a second. Just like a macro or clearly detectable facial expressions, micro-expressions give away seven different emotions.
 
A novice or inexperienced observer can overlook micro-expressions because they remain almost undetected by it. By experience and age, people learn to control autonomous facial expressions, movements and gestures by giving away clues about them swiftly.

Who says I'm afraid?
Unlike normal or macro expressions, micro expressions appear and disappear within fraction of a second. Sometimes, expressions are miniaturized to keep them unnoticed by observer.
 
Unlike inexperienced or untrained observers, analysts and experts can instantaneously crack or zoom into micro expressions. Also, they can be monitored while running video clip at lower frame rate or watching photograph.

Micro expressions can bring surprising turns while interpreting body language because they are emotional outlets of actually what somebody tries to suppress or hide from others. Learned and volunteer control (cortical control) still let their trails appear as much as for 1/4 fraction of a second as per pioneer emotion and facial expressions scientist Prof. Dr. Paul Ekman (University of San Fransisco, United States).
 
He and his colleagues have developed a very reliable tool called as Micro Expressions Test Tool (METT) that let you learn and detect micro expressions online. You can test your skills by following this link that takes you to demo test. 

Did she kill her husband?
Experienced interrogators and lie detectors mostly rely on micro expressions because smart liars can confidently claim that ordinary people easily believe in. In a real incident, a suspected woman was arrested for the murder of her husband. During the police interrogation, she boldly claimed, "I really don't have any idea about him. I hope that he'll come back very soon". However, she unconsciously gave away a subtle clue that as ordinary individual would have ignored and wouldn't have ask any serious questions to her.


While claiming the same, she turned her face contemptuous, just for fractions of a second. If she really cared about her husband then why she expressed disrespect (towards him) in the first place? Experienced
interrogators would sense that something must have gone wrong in their relationship. Expert interrogators could have possibly get confession of murdering his own husband by asking a few serious questions to her. Remember that the devil is in the details.

No need to check time
In social environments, we can see people managing to cope with distressing moments by replacing clearly apparent expressions by their miniaturized versions. A veteran project leader in a software company slightly touches wrist watch but doesn't look at it while addressing to farewell party.
 
Actually, he replaces “hands-crossed-on-chest” posture to defend himself from anxiety of somebody being hurt by his words unintentionally. Even though he doesn't express anxiety on his own face, his body gives away a miniaturized expression of indented posture he unconsciously wants to adapt in front of the audience.

In May 2013, I got a certificate from Humintell for completing facial micro-expression training and passing the final test with 93% percent of accuracy. Though I passed with ‘Expert’ level, it wasn’t an easy task at all because mood of a person at given moment and movements in own facial muscles can make a great difference.
 
However, my own facial muscles helped me to pass the test. Ability to portray micro-expressions on you own face can give you real edge in identifying them on faces of other people.

My Certificate from HuminTell

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Reading Body Language - Context

Like Cluster, Context makes a nonverbal message more clear to understand. CONTEXT is an environment, background or situation according to which it should be interpreted. Without context, reading body language would drastically mislead us.

Let's see how exactly two different environments, situations or surroundings can give two different meanings to the same expression or action.

There are two different persons taking out their frustration following sequence of events. One person is standing in the audience gallery while watching a football/soccer match with his favorite team playing in it whereas another person is a senior police officer who is standing inside the police station with his colleagues.

Both of them are in two completely different environments and conditions to express their feelings, motives, intentions and emotions while reacting to something. Context plays very crucial role in understanding what they want to convey actually.

Both of them suddenly yelled and smashed fist on their palm. Smashing fist on the palm is one of the ways of taking out frustration (sadness with anger) over unexpected or impending failure, loss or shortfall. We punch the fist on palm because we cannot punch anybody else at the moment.

The young football fan smashed his fist on palm after watching an ace player missed the goal post during the last few minutes of the second half. He took out his frustration over the wasted opportunity by his favorite team in making the goal for winning over its opponents at the end.

On the other hand, the police officer listens that a criminal who was arrested after a year long pursuit succeeded in escaping from prison a few minutes ago. He smashed his fist on palm, yelling “Damn it!”. He took out frustration because all efforts he and his team took to arrest the criminal got wasted.

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Reading Body Language - Proxemics

During Golden Globe Award Ceremony of 2016, an unusual incident happened. After her name being announced as a receiver of an award, the famous American singer Lady Gaga started walking towards stage. While making her way through audience, she briefly brushed off behind the chair on which the famous Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio was sitting.
 
While reacting to the same quite spontaneously, viscerally and unconsciously, his unique facial expression and nose touching made the headlines all around the globe and several YouTube clips were published. Why he would have done it after all? Let's find out very reason behind the same.


In last two articles, we have seen that how clustering and congruence are crucial for reading body language. Now let's  move on towards understanding the importance of interpersonal distance which is called as PROXEMICS. It is the study of human use of space and the effects that population density has on behaviour, communication and social interaction.
 
Wars are fought over a piece of land but most of us really don’t realize that the interpersonal distance or physical space between any two individuals plays a great role in and also affects stress level, hostility, aggression, comfort level and overall relationship. Interpersonal distance becomes critically important while encountering or meeting a complete stranger. So let's take an example from the real life so it would make sense very clearly.
 
It's an usual day in the company and you start working on routine tasks. Suddenly, team leader informs you that few newly recruited members are joining your team. You are asked to gather at some place for getting formally introduced with them face to face. Until this moment both parties might not have seen each other so little amount of nervousness coupled with excitement lurks inside everyone's mind.
 
While looking at each other, both parties smile nervously but avoid prolong eye contact except those who develop feelings of physical attraction for each other instantaneously. Formal hand shake, mutual introduction and exchanging a few words take place by keeping socially accepted distance from each other. Even, the team or group leader keeps socially accepted distance from the new joiner.

At the beginning, getting face to face is filled with uneasiness and anxiety. Glancing at either side of own body, looking down, hovering gaze, putting hands in pocket, giving nervous look or smile, grabbing things in palms, moving torso away or crossing arms over chest can be observed being done unconsciously by both parties.
 
They don't come close to each other or interact voluntarily like seniors or more experienced colleagues do among themselves. An accidental touch and trespassing is regretted and felt sorry about. Also, the new joiners form their own group despite of unfamiliarity among themselves.

Some days pass and regular work-related interactions start taking place between you and new joiners. Apart from work, everybody starts talking, sharing and complementing with each others irrespective of tenure in the company. It gives opportunity of judging, profiling and knowing each other consciously or unconsciously.
 
We naturally tend to figure out mutual strengths, weaknesses, likes and dislikes. Also, it's not at all necessary and obligatory that every member of team become close companion of every other senior. Some subconscious reservations, biases, orientations or complexes motivate us to form a bond with more like minded persons.

Initial awkwardness, shyness and disorientation slowly fades. Interactions start happening at close distance as compared to earlier days. Touching, seating or standing closer, eating together, whispering, handling personal stuff or prolonging eye contact becomes normal.
 
Everybody starts looking at faces and into the eyes of each other quite comfortably. Postures of two interacting persons become quite grounded, firm and relaxed. Strong rapport is established among new joiners and senior team members over the time. Meeting and greeting each other brings excitement and freshness at workspace.

Doesn't it appear like a miracle? Gradual shrinking of interpersonal space and development of new relationship! Why we tend to stay away from new people in the beginning and get closer gradually (or in worst case - drift away)? Certainly, it's really worth interesting and enlightening to know in the first place.

Too close?
Interpersonal space or distance between two individuals is crucial factor for judging that if other person or object is in favor of our survival interests. It's a core mechanism of our  subconscious mind of gathering visual clues and deciding to move towards it, let it to move towards ourselves or step back and run away from it. 
 
When the space required to watch (hear and smell too) others and decide the strategy is intruded, invaded or trespassed with unknown intentions (by strangers), we feel very uncomfortable, challenged, dominated, offended or stressed. Limbic system starts sending flight or fight signals to the body.
 
Until we don't spend enough time in observing and judging the level of hostility, degree of harmfulness, intentions, motives and temperament of the other person, we don't want to allow it to come closer with ourselves. Until we don't judge anything or anybody as harmless, we want to keep a safe distance with the same.
 
Dr. Albert Meharabian, the leading proxemist has defined four different zones around our body. Each zone is a circular area in which we let other to enter or stay depending upon kind of relationship we're seeking or currently have with them.
Different zones of proxemics (Interpersonal Distance)
1) Intimate Zone (from 6 to 18 inches): This is the zone a person guards as individual property. Only romantic partner, close friends and relatives are allowed to enter in it.

2) Personal Zone (from 18 to 48 inches): This is the distance we keep from others during friendly interactions, social gatherings or parties.

3) Social Zone (from 4 to 12 feet): This is the distance we keep from strangers or persons with a little or no acquaintance at all.
 
4)
Public Zone (beyond 12 feet): This is the distance we maintain while interacting or addressing to large group of people.

Basically, there are only reasons to invade or intrude the personal and intimate zones i. e. either to attack and harm somebody or to get intimate with somebody. Hence, lesser the physical distance remains between any two individuals, more both of them expect non-offense, courtesy and carefulness. Otherwise, they try to fight or run away (flight) for their own safety.
 
However, there are a few occasions in which we allow a large no. of (complete) strangers to invade our personal and intimate zones. Those are the only kinds of occasions in which we voluntarily gather with a single goal or target in our minds. The long waiting queues or a crowd gathered on railway platforms or at music shows or sport matches are few examples of same.

Above are approximate distances with which Dr. Albert Meharabian put up his theory but radius of each zone may vary culture, society or geography wise.

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Reading Body Language - Congruence

In last article, we came to know about clustering which is first point to consider while reading body language. Moreover, a cluster is a door step for an interpretation of a nonverbal message more accurately. Yet any cluster has to be analyzed further to check if it conveys a genuine message or not. So let’s move forward to authenticate a massage. Why verification of authenticity is required in the first place at all?

Generally, our brain maintains coordination among facial expression, posture, movement, words and tone of voice. If they remain more synchronized with each other, a message gets across more effectively and correctly. It’s called as CONGRUENCE or compatibility. Bodily clues and moves supporting and reflecting what words are conveying is an truthful massage.

What if someone wants to distract or lie to others with false message? Our deliberate cleverness comes into play for the same. In practical life, we find ourselves in very awkward situations in which passing exact and true message may not be in our best interest. They are a number of reasons for same but all of them cannot be discussed in this article.
 
There are two persons saying, "I'm open to and confident about the new challenges!". One person has crossed arms over chest with false smile on face while the other has opened arms wide and seems ready to embrace. Who would you believe to be ready for challenges?
Who's open and confident?
Anxiety, fear, guilt or distress of being damned, embarrassed and punished by others while saying what others are expecting to hear from an individual starts leaking out through the lack of bodily control and coordination. Ultimately we try to cover up it by verbal crafting but mind doesn't let us to deny the truth. 
 
Various parts of our body and their movements become less compatible with each other or get completely out of synchrony. Thus a cluster appears to be non-congruent with words we speak or even try to convince nonverbally. 
 
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Reading Body Language - Clusters

It’s very amazing to know that we all communicate nonverbally (through body language, facial expressions and voice) by most. Same fact excites many enthusiasts to jump start reading others and why not. Knowing someone’s thoughts and intentions is decisive but also it's more important to interpret them more accurately.

Putting together
Reading or interpreting this very article is quite easy because we all are aware of different words that have been put together in an acceptable sequence (syntax) in different sentences and paragraphs by following certain grammatical rules.

Shifting their positions, dropping them, inserting unrelated words or defying grammar would lead to complete confusion and total loss of the purpose of writing this article in the first place. The same rules apply to interpretation of body language and nonverbal communication.

Interestingly, body language has its own vocabulary, grammar, syntax and sentences. We communicate nonverbally with the help of different clues or signals that are grouped together or given away one after another in a sequence. It's identical to the way different words create a meaningful sentence. Single word may not convey message but a complete sentence can easily make sense.

Combination of different sensory stimulus or inputs, facial expressions, eye contacts, gestures, movements, postures and para linguistic convey a distinct message. Most of us try to interpret each of them in isolation, often leading us to complete misunderstanding. Like composing sentences, we need to put them together. This method is called as CLUSTERING. A cluster clearly makes sense of distinct nonverbal message. Let’s take an example of it.

Most of us know that crossing arms over chest is a self-defensive or controlling action. As it clearly appears, we cover vulnerable parts of upper body (torso). Definitely, it's not a welcoming or open approach at all. But crossing arms isn't a clue to self-defense only when it is put in different clusters.

Look at these pictures and find what each person is likely to express. Keenly observe their facial expressions (especially eyebrows), postures (especially neck) and gazes (how they make or don't make eye contact).

Warning or Criticizing (Left) Helpless, Sad & Fearful (Center) Disagree or Disappointed (Right)
Also, we need take physical environment or specific situation into account while looking at a person with arms crossed on its chest. This old lady wearing a sweater is protecting herself from cold by crossing arms so that maximum body heat would be retained.

Even here, her posture gives an idea about how intensely she would be suffering from cold. Look at hunched back, lowered chin and legs tightly held together.

Interpreting body language by clusters is very crucial to understand overall mood or conditions of person in any given circumstance.

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Body Language Brain

Principally, we have evolved to communicate nonverbally - through physical expressions. Surprisingly, very amazing and unimaginably ancient system inside our brain understands and also conveys emotions or intentions through physical expressions only. It’s called as the Limbic System. It works very precisely and we can survive because of same.

Here’s an interesting story about how the limbic system evolved over the millions of years. In fact, it’s a short story of our own evolution - how a water dwelling creatures turned into land roaming creatures and further into a walking, speaking and hunting race which we all belong to i. e. Homo Sapiens Sapiens.

An aquatic ancestor
Hard to believe for many of us is that most of the extinguished and existing creatures evolved from common ancestors. They existed in water past 360 million years. Climatic changes and/or struggle to survive forced them migrating to land.

Their leathery fins transformed into limbs/legs to roam on hard surfaces and outer skin became tougher to endure dry and harsh climate on land. They developed lungs to breathe. Amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals are descendants of same land roaming ancestors.

Iguana
Reptiles evolved 320 to 310 million years ago. This was the true beginning of limbic system development. They evolved a reflexive system to fight, flight, feed and breed. Reptilian behavioral patterns are very apparent and predictable but those helped them to survive in the environment they roamed.

There were no emotions in the world of creatures till mammals appeared on planet earth. Mammals evolved during collapse of dinosaur dynasty. Surprisingly, they evolved from reptiles 220 million years ago. Mammals emerged with more deliberate, social and motivated behavior unlike seemingly cold, impassive and brutal reptiles.

The reason behind it would be linked to their altered metabolism, reproduction, nurturing, bonding and habitation. Mammals grow offspring inside their own bodies till certain stage of development, give them birth, feed them with by secreting nutrients from mammary glands and control body temperature to adjust diverse climatic conditions.

Plesiadapis
New mammalian brain structure Cortex was built upon reptilian complex. Even though mammals become more superior in survival strategies, they naturally incline to reptilian flight or fight approach. They developed variations to compensate fight or flight approach by more dramatic, planned and coordinated movements, behavior and physical expressions.

Emotions were incredible gift along with strong sense of different smells and ability to remember them (Olfactory system). It helped them to endure different situations and circumstances. They flourished, evolved and spread over on entire planet.

Chimpanzee
Finally appeared the common ancestors (Hominoidea) of humans and apes (orangutans, gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos) - the primate ancestors who evolved 65 million years ago. They might have evolved from mammals who skilled in climbing on trees for food and shelter. Primates evolved more complex parts inside brains for adapting new living environments, anatomical features and social challenges. 

They developed superior system to coordinate movements and maneuvers on trees and ground. They gained ability to think and plan. Their vision become more advanced so stronger became visual memory. They could remember and recall scenes voluntarily.

Why apes did not further evolve as humans, though we share more than 98% genetic profile with them? Why we eventually evolved into our present form? How we dominated the world of creatures? These questions definitely come into our curious minds.
 
As like today, groups of common ancestors (who further evolved as modern apes) were living in thick forest areas that was far away from homeland of some members. Chain of climatic disruptions during 3 to 5 millions of years ago separated those few from forest inhabiting groups forever.

Huge drop in rainfall on north-eastern part of African continent (Afar valley, Ethiopia) replaced forests full of tall - large - lush trees by vast planes of grass and bushes. Apparently, nature forced our ancestors to roam on ground. They started walking on their two legs (hind limbs) with two hands free (fore limbs) to gather food, make tools, hunt animals, catch fishes and farm crops. They started living in fixed shelters.

Ability to walk on two feet (bipedal anatomy) changed our apparent behavior, movement patterns and ultimately the way of communication. Making different facial expressions, gestures and sounds became beneficial to express emotions and feelings among members in group. Throughout different civilizations, we kept improving and diversifying our life style, occupation and communication. We formed ethics and cultural - social norms.

We (modern humans) are called as Homo Sapiens that literally means as "wise man" or "knowing man" in Latin. Neocortex is the most advanced structure that rests above reptile and mammalian brain. It gives us ability of reasoning, imagination, speaking languages, introspection, navigation, mathematical calculations and problem solving. We can harbor feelings, regulate emotions and restrain limbic impulses but cannot entirely surpass them.

Human rage
Moreover, visual and emotional memory makes us to act or behave the way our ancestors would have done in remote history. We become comfortable in favorable environments and situations and uncomfortable in distress and (signs of) danger. Under threat, we experience more or less same kind of physiological responses like reptiles or mammals give (flight or fight/run away).

On the other hand, we display rage or aggression exactly like other animals do (fight). Only we can bring variation in basic defense patterns that are instinctively exercised by other creatures.

Different creatures expressing rage or aggression
If we pay keen and conscious attention, all inherited and learned patterns of physical expressions are easy to decode because of functional precision of limbic system, parasympathetic nervous system and endocrine system.

[Special Thanks to Sir Joe Navarro (Ex-FBI Counterintelligence agent and Pioneer in nonverbal communication) for reviewing this article and sharing his own views.]

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