Scientific Portal on Body Language, Kinesics, and Nonverbal Communication#

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. In fact, it’s a short story of our evolution.

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 fins transformed into limbs/legs to roam 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 world of creatures till mammals appeared on 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 bodies till certain stage of development, feed them by secretion 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 and spread 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 adopting 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 human though we share more than 98% genetic profile with them? This question definitely comes into our curious mind. 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. Hugh 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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Social Footsteps

We may not remember the first step taken as child. Before started to walk; we certainly would have stumbled, fallen and tried to stand up again and again. Continuous encouragement, appreciation, sympathy and guidance motivated us to take early steps. Somebody was there who we looked at, followed and seek support from until becoming able to walk on own. We started to walk because somebody thought that we ought to do it!

We come across many people after birth but most decisive influence we have on our mind is of parents, caretakers or elders who bring us up. They shape our basic instincts, habits, gut, behavior and attitude. They train to restrain fear, to comfort distress, to identify crucial signals and triggers, to make way towards what is favorable and safe, to communicate - socialize and to form bonds that can serve best interest.

Bond between mother and child is the most fundamental and life transforming. Mother not only just feeds and protects child but also formulates what child is going to do or be in future. Surprisingly, it is the child who continuously follows her to relate, communicate and socialize with others. Role of father in same is also indisputable. Children learn to express and respond at things and people the way parents do by most.

Have you ever observed a child being handover to a stranger by parents? If not then do closely watch at desperate look of child and alert stance. It looks at faces of parents to know their expressions and feelings about stranger. Unless they give assurance of no harm from stranger to child, it never moves forward or stay calm. Simply, a child seeks opinion from parents and caretakers until it becomes independent in justifying others.

Even after growing up, we always seek clues from familiar person before moving forward to strangers, new places and things. Let’s take a very good example of it. In office or social gathering, we approach to or stay close with the person we know best or feel favorable. Same person gives information and opinion about the others and introduce you with them. Otherwise, imagine a level of anxiety one feels while walking alone with crowd of strangers. For developing hunch, proper guidance is required.

Importance of emotionally adept, encouraging and pro-social parenting would always remain because it assures social survivability, more fulfilling relations and enormous opportunities outside home. More socially mature and relation oriented parents, more their children would
likely become same in future.

Parents shape child's potential social life.
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My career saving lie detection

This is a true story that that took place in life of mine and my friend Sam (original name changed). It’s a story about detecting a lie and eventually leading me to move forward in area of lie detection. How one could easily escape from an alluring and impressive betrayal? I did because i could sense something that would have ruined my career. Unfortunately, Sam learned a good lesson only after risking his own future.

In 2008, Sam joined a company that was dealing with ERP implementation. Good salary, allowances and ample facilities brought sense of stability in his life. He could then think to get married and settle after a long running struggle to get a promising job.

One day company published an advertisement about vacancies in local newspapers. At that time, I
was too struggling to find a suitable job. Since I had good experience of working with same technologies which company was looking candidates for, I requested Sam to forward my resume to company’s HR Department.

Next day, I received an e-mail about fixing an appointment for an interview. Surprisingly, I was given a choice to meet as per own convenience - including both time and place. I though that it was company’s best policy to take candidate’s comfort into account. After listening to Sam appreciating his new job profile, I was on cloud nine.


At the day of interview, two interviewers from same company came to pick me up. Luxurious car, sophisticated manners and friendly introduction was enough to take hold of an innocent mind. After traveling few meters only, we finally arrived at a famous cafe. Interviewers introduced themselves as co-founders of company and politely asked me to order whatever I like. However it ended up in ordering a cup of coffee and interviewers also ordered coffee for them. I was totally impressed by this gesture. After emptying cups, interview started.

Next day, Sam called me and asked how interview took place and what was my impression about the company. I clearly told him that I was not having positive opinion about the offer. Sam claimed that I was not going to have any better opportunity than what his company was offering. At end of call, I given him clues about discreditably of company’s survival plans that Sam laughed off.

No communication took place between us for next six months other than how about emails and Facebook chats. Sam was deployed in Middle East to train new clients and I got good job opportunity in a multinational property management software development company in Pune. My decision to join the company turned out to be very fruitful for my professional career.

One day, Sam called me in very sad voice. Sam told him that he was asked to return to Pune immediately and was also forced to resign with no clarifications. After week, shocking news published in a local newspaper. Company ran into bankruptcy after major clients terminating contracts on basis of dissatisfaction, lack of clarity between support & training departments and failure to curb soaring implementation costs.

Escape from long queues for job interview can be a betrayal.
Sam was completely startled and he was wondering how he risked his career just by an overrated impressions built up in mind. He asked me that how I came to know that company was going to take wrong turns and meet disaster. I shared with him that exactly happened during the interview that took place six months ago.

After answering all questions, I was given an opportunity to ask questions about company. Interviewers seemed quite satisfied and in my favor. They were in hurry to seal the deal immediately. Offer letter was pulled out and kept in my sight. I asked them about company’s plan to survive global economical recession. This was the only opportunity to assure future course of my career with this company.

The moment I asked that question, seemingly satisfied faces of interviewers turned very anxious and their body language shifted suddenly. Rather than answering me with comfort and confidence, both of them kept clearing their throats while speaking and looking at faces of each other like two close brother lost their way in crowd. They could not make proper eye contact with me and kept their gaze hovering. Finally, they somehow tried to convince me about an exposure to new technologies that appeals to every candidate. Initial enthusiasm in their voices was disappeared and offer letter was put back in file.

Sam was mesmerized after hearing this story and how I could know reality by reading body language of interviewers. Clearly, they were lying to me at that decisive moments but not by words. Sam realized that how crucial was to read people conveying the truth nonverbally.

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Importance of Touch

Communication in relationship is incomplete without touch just like an eye contact or smile. In fact,  touch can establish, repair or even ruin a relationship. Touch has very crucial importance to express feelings for other person - from formal to intimate. Touch can break boundaries and tie two persons into close relationship. The secret behind same is more than skin-deep.

Skin covers largest part of our body and protects vital organs supported by muscles and bones. Skin is the major part of body that is exposed to outer world. It’s the largest sensory organ. It senses temperature, humidity, pressure and vibrations. It regulates the temperature of body with help of hypothalamus. Most important above all, skin can sense of pain and pleasure.

Apes have their skin almost covered by hairs except face, palms and soles of feet. Apes groom each other by running fingers through hairs in leisure time to strengthen social bond. We and apes evolved from common ancestors we don't have that much hair covering our skin. Course of evolution lead us to shed hair from most part of skin. Expose skin invited more challenges and opportunities equally.

Being more sensitive to climate, we got to cover our skin by cloths. We started living in shelters accompanied with tribal members for survival. Coming into close contact of each other by exposed skin was quite natural. Our ancestors adopted and evolved touch as medium of communication more efficiently than any other creatures. Touch can be of different type - caring, friendly, supportive, encouraging, suggestive, provocative, grabbing, offensive or dominant.


We cannot imagine the kind of soothing and sense of security child experiences while being cuddled or massaged by mother. Gentle touch or caress secretes happiness hormone Oxytocin inside the brain. It helps strengthening emotional bond between mother and child so among others. Oxytocin prohibits Autism. Research proves that lack of massage can lead to emotional and cognitive disorders in children. When we experience caring and firm touch, we feel quite relaxed and cherished. Self-touching brings same relaxation at some extent.



Hostile touching leads to anxiety, threat and sense of vulnerability. Accidental touch  among strangers can lead to retaliation or even fighting. Absence of touch between two persons in close relationship is precursor to lack of interest, trust or sympathy.

Two persons who aren't interested to go beyond formality avoid touching each other. Even if they touch, it appears to be very brief or happened by mistake. Touching to each other in public might be regulated by social, gender, cultural or regional norms.

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