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August 17, 2013

Reading Body Language - Interpretation

There are thousands of on-line and printed and books, videos and articles available about reading body language. I too have a few books in written in English and other languages in my own bookshelf. I referred these books many times at the beginning of my own research about sociology, body language and nonverbal communication.

In the concluding section or epilogue of almost every book, there is a strong, loud and clear message i. e. Don’t try to jump on conclusions in hurry and try to look at other side of any picture. How many times we do exactly the same in the real life too? Matter of fact is that most of us jump of conclusions in hurry and fall flat on their faces.

Without spending more time and energy, most of us just jump on conclusions that take them away from the facts or the reality. They don't even bother to look at the other side of the picture. Such self-proclaimed or so-called "body language experts" are plentiful in our society. Some of them might be living and moving around you too at present.

Interpretation based on recognized or repetitive patterns that we’ve been observing in books might not help us to arrive at an accurate conclusion in real life. Unlike some fixed hot-spots which an inexperienced person too easily acknowledge, there could be many pitfalls while interpreting, decoding or reading body language.

Recently, I saw a picture which is a very good specimen for interpreting both emotional and physical status at once in the given context. While taking a first look at it, I’m sure that most of us would jump on the easiest and quickest conclusion which is that the body is infuriated at his father. Right?

Mr. Ashok Thiruvengadam with his son Tarun

Are you damn sure about your interpretation? Really? Now, I’m putting same lines (just below) that were originally published with the image in a slideshow on yahoo India news website. I'm damn hopeful that it would help you greatly while verifying the authenticity or validity of your quick interpretation.

"I think this kind of mindfulness isn't something you can get in the city in a mall watching a movie," says Mr. Ashok Thiruvenkatam (49) from Bengluru (India). He had just finished a 1,000 km brevet through Karnataka and did not look like a man recovering, as he matched his 12-year-old son Tarun for excitement and energy."

While taking a first look what appears is the the body is standing by putting his both hands on his hips and he looks quite distressed by his facial expressions. His lower lip has protruded and nostrils have flared. His is holding his gaze not exactly in the direction of his father who is standing just a feet away from him.

Many people think that different expressions we make unconsciously by our faces and bodies only convey emotional, social and relational statuses. This is not the whole truth at all because we’re not just the social and emotional creatures but we’ve all have living bodies in the first place. Our faces and eyes give away cognitive clues too.

Many times we make muscular movements and adapt different postures to adjust with given working situations, operational demands, physical environments and our own internal physical states. Tightening jaws, furrowing eyebrows and closing eyes while experiencing physical pain or applying force to do something is a good example.

Now, let’s try to interpret the above image in an entirely different way. For that, we’ve to imagine physical state of the boy at the same moment when this photograph was taken by a photographer. Definitely, by looking at his body language, the boy seems distressed but the reason of the same is not his father.

As lines give hint us that the father matched excitement and energy of his son while cycling, the boy seems physically exhausted and running out of energy. Actually, father appears to have higher energy level as compared to his son. Isn't it? Regular long-distance cycling has improved his endurance and skills to expend energy more skillfully.

Have you ever seen sprinters and runners after crossing the finishing line? Most of them appear very much the same i. e. sweating and panting, both hands rested on hips or knees, mouth opened widely and bent body posture. Extremely exhausted athletes might simply lay down on ground.

An exhausted athlete

Even winners of the races and competitions can be observed giving away this typical distress and exhaustion cluster at the finishing lines. Switch on your television and look out for players expressing physical pain, strain and/or exhaustion.

[Special note: I've personally met Mr. Ashok Thiruvenkatam in Chennai (India) during a charity duathlon event in which we both participated together and gave each other company. He's a well-known ultra-runner and an ultra-cyclist in India.

Being myself a regular bicycle commuter, a long-distance cyclist and also an ultra-cyclist; I strongly promote cycling as (recreational) sports, fitness activity, mode of environment friendly and also pollution-free transportation.]

Related Article:
1) Hand Gestures 2) Facial Expressions 3) Postures 4) Para Language 5) Micro Expressions 6) Context 7) Proxemics 8) Congruence 9) Clusters 10) 11) Baseline 12) Perceptual Bias 13) Artificial Intelligence and Body Language