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October 31, 2011

Body Language Brain

Principally, we all have evolved to communicate, react and reciprocate nonverbally i. e. through physical movements, facial expressions and vocal tones. Surprisingly, an unimaginably ancient and equally amazing system inside our brains understands and also conveys emotions, intentions and motives through physical movements, facial expressions and vocal tones.

The system is formally called as the Limbic System (Paleomammalian Cortex). It works very precisely and also round the clock throughout the life. Only due to the same, we all can survive and also communicate with each other nonverbally by default, including the creatures too. Do you want to know how this shared system evolved is all of us?

Aquatic Ancestor
Although not scientifically precise, 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 i. e. how a water dwelling group of creatures turned into land roaming creatures and further into a race of walking, speaking and hunting creatures which we all belong to i. e. Homo Sapiens Sapiens.

It's really hard to believe for most of us is that most of the extinct and living creatures evolved from a few common ancestors. They first inhabited the Earth's vast oceans some 360 million years ago. Climatic changes and/or struggle to survive forced them to migrate 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.

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

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, predictable and brutal reptiles.

The reason behind it would be linked to their altered metabolism, reproduction, nurturing, bonding and cohabitation. Mammals grow off-springs inside their own bodies till certain stage of development, bring them in outer world through birth canal, feed them with by secreting nutrients from mammary glands and control body temperature to adjust diverse climatic conditions.

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 survive and reproduce in different environments, situations and circumstances. From the deep sea dwelling blue whales to the cave dwelling bats, they flourished, evolved and spread over the entire planet in the diverse forms.

Finally appeared the common ancestors (Hominoidea) of humans (humanoids) and apes (orangutans, gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos) i. e. the primate ancestors who evolved 65 million years ago after the mass extinction of dinosaurs. They might have evolved from the same group of mammals who eventually developed great skills in climbing on trees for food and shelter.

Primates evolved more complex parts inside their brains for adapting new living conditions, anatomical features and social challenges. They gradually evolved with the superior system to coordinate physical movements and maneuvers on both 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 into humans, though we share more than 98% genetic profile with them? Why we eventually evolved into our present form? How we seemingly 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 the north-eastern part of the African continent (Afar valley, Ethiopia) replaced forests which were once full of tall, large and 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 or the 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, vales and social norms.

Three brain sections
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 right about engulfs both reptile and mammalian sections of the brain. Primary function of neocortex is to fine tune the reactions and responses arising from the reptile and mammalian sections.

It can delay and dampen the instinctive, instantaneous and emotional reactions which ultimately gives us the some of the unique abilities such as reasoning, imagination, speaking languages, introspection, navigation, mathematical calculations and problem solving. Although we can harbor feelings, regulate emotions and restrain limbic impulses; we cannot entirely surpass the limbic system.

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 creatures and animals do (fight) by opening or tightening our jaws in the presence of the culprit. Neocortex has only brought a few variation in the basic defense patterns that are instinctively exercised by all other creatures.

Different creatures expressing rage or aggression

If we pay keen and conscious attention, all inherited and learned patterns of physical movements, facial expressions and vocal tones are easy to decode only due to the functional precision of limbic system, parasympathetic nervous system and endocrine system.

[Special Thanks to the world's leading, respected and critically proven Body Language expert, Nonverbal Communication pioneer and my Guru Sir Joe Navarro (retired special agent, Counter-Intelligence Supervisor and Spy-Catcher who served in FBI for 25 years) for personally reviewing this article and sharing his own views which has resulted into several valuable additions and enhancements.]

Related Articles:
1) Survival of Communicator 2) Evolution of Nonverbal Communication 3) "The expression of emotions in man and animals" 4) "Nonverbal" is alien way of communication? 5) Basic Emotional Expressions 6) Clusters 7) Congruence 8) Proxemics 9) Context 10) Micro Expressions 11) Para Language 12) Postures 13) Facial Expressions 14) Hand Gestures 15) Challenges 16) Interpretation 17) Fear Factor 18) What is Nonverbal Communication? 19) Gestures - Are they learned or genetic? 20) Body rubbing to soothe brain 21) Recognizing emotional expressions: Scientific viewpoints 22) Turtle Effect: Body response under threat 23) It’s Written All Over You... 23) Can body language reveal thoughts? 24) Why exactly languages evolved? 25) Amygdala Hijack: Irrational Physical Reactions 26) Chicken and Egg Paradox


  1. Really informative and nicely documented article.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. Great explanation :)

  4. Amygdala being part of Limbic system is the GPS of place cells and grid cells...Nobel prize finding!

  5. Huge numbers of the cases the nations have embraced the language of their past pilgrim rulers as the subsequent language. Now and then these languages are likewise called authority language. Spoken Languages In The World


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