Search for

November 23, 2014

First Impression and Body Language

Age of Impressionism
The ‘First Impression’ always has been in talks of people living in towns and cities. Catch phrases like “First impression is the last impression.”, “You never get second chance to make good impression.” and “First impression lasts longer.” are very popular and frequently used all over the word. Grooming and Image Management schools and institutes have cropped up.

Appearing in front of somebody at very first time is all about making an (long lasting) impression on the individual's mind. Thus, first meeting or encounter is given crucial importance to, in both human and animal world. It's all comes down to determining the potential outcome upon showing up.

Most of us always seek opportunities to impress others positively because it has an enormous importance especially in employment, politics, business and courtship. However, most of us mistakenly equate a positive impression with good appearance, exterior or ‘looks’ only. It’s not the whole truth because looks are or can be deceptive. You’ll realize the same after going through rest of this article. At least, you’ll start looking deep inside an individual, apart of its looks.

As systematically advocated by cosmetic product and cloth manufacturers through TV commercials, brochures, banners, tabloids and magazines; an external appearance has been largely emphasized to make money. We tend to judge a book by its cover but it doesn’t work correctly every time. Hence, warnings are also given like “Never judge any individual by its first impression only.”, “Never judge any individual by its attire only.”.

Face to face encounters lead to interpersonal evaluation.

Apart of such worthy warnings, first impression takes hold of our unconscious mind and paralyzes our logical reasoning most of the time. Even though we can’t deny its importance, most of us cannot explain that what first impression is all about. Can you? Even many professionals from grooming and image management schools and institutes may not be able to explain ‘What first impression exactly is?’ scientifically.

First impression is nothing but the quickest unconscious or involunteer evaluation of an individual on the basis of trustworthiness i. e. if the individual is (or can be) trustworthy or not. After finding an individual trustworthy, we naturally develop likability towards the same individual and make ourselves comfortable with or express level of comfort.

First impression is deeply connected with our own survival and that’s why most of us can hardly get out of its influence because we just can't escape from forming impressions of the individuals we face, let the encounter be an accidental one. So let’s see how first impression develops in our mind and why so quickly.

Which individual you find as trustworthy?

The very moment we watch or look at a (complete) stranger at first time, our brain immediately starts gathering visual clues given away by the same individual. Our vision collects a wide spectrum of clues that we don't realize consciously. In very short amount of time, brain has to decide that whether the individual is favorable or risky for our survival.

Within just a few milliseconds, brain figure outs whether the individual is positive, neutral or negative i. e. the different polarities of favorability about the individual. Why does it happen so quickly and without any conscious or logical control? If it is done so quickly then there must be some hidden benefits (and also drawbacks) of same.

Mental mechanism of impression formation is the leftover of ancient neurological processes that helped our ancestors in surviving during social situations and we inherit the same till date. Although a lot of processing goes on inside our brain but the first impression forms without our conscious justification, reasoning and calculation.

Is appearance everything?
What exactly we look out for in other individual within just few moments? Our brain derives an impression based upon an individual’s physical attributes and its body language i. e. eye contact, facial expressions, way of approaching, interpersonal space (distance between two individuals), body posture, body movements, style of walking, attire, speech and the most importantly hygiene and tidiness.

On the basis of the same, we instantly judge or rate the individual as Likable (Positive), Okay (Neutral) or Not Likable (Negative). We just can't escape from such evaluation because it has greatly helped our ancestors in creating and avoiding connections with the individuals they faced.

Why body language plays a crucial role because it conveys aspects, signal and clues that attire and appearance simply can’t. Hence it is really important to understand that ‘looks’ or an external appearance is one of the essential factors of quick evaluation and a positive first impression. Body language conveys emotions, intentions, motivations, orientation, favorability, vulnerability, formidability and confidence of an individual.

Deal or No-deal?
During our long evolutionary history, it was really crucial for our ancestors to pick a favorable individual over an unfavorable one. If somebody picks an unfavorable individual by mistake, it would cost the first individual too much. Perhaps, an unfavorable individual could pose harm to or even become a cause of death.

The very moment we come across any individual, especially with whom we’re meeting or facing at very first time, is determinant of our future. If the individual turns out to be positive, trustworthy and friendly; it would ensure and even multiply chances of our survival. The association could be mutually beneficial and both parties could remain in good spirit with each other in future.

On the other hand, if the same individual turns out to be negative, fake, unpredictable and unfriendly; the individual could pose harm to us in many ways which we might not be able to imagine and think about while looking at the individual. In stressful, uncertain and chaotic situations; fractions of a second could make a great difference between life and death.

Negative Impression = Aversion
Even though it turns out to be completely wrong sometimes, our brain makes snap judgement about the individual we’re looking at very first time. It happens quickly because we might not know exactly when perceptibly negative or unfavorable individual could pose harm to us.

Hence our brain creates strong sense of disliking about the individual so that we keep safe distance from the same and avoid further interactions. On the other hand, positive evaluation or judgement done by our brain encourages us to keep interacting with the individual.

However, an impression or instantaneous evaluation works like a double-edged sword in the human society. Why? An external appearance is alterable and/or can be deceptive. Thus later assessment and realization which turn out to be inconsistent with one's external appearance can and do negatively affect both parties i. e. one who evaluates and other which is being evaluated.

According to William Shakespeare, All that glitters is not Gold. Almost everybody of us might have (repeatedly) experienced the same in our lives. Hence this grave issue led me to figure out the origin of connection between an external appearance and instantaneous threat evaluation or the ‘first impression. Only brain-storming, visualization and contemplation over days helped me in doing same.

Impression is an evaluation.
Before writing a hypothesis about the evolution of impression formation process during the first interpersonal encounter, I had to visualize a lot about the conditions and circumstances through which our ancestors used to go while trying to survive in pre-historic world millions of years ago.

The hypothesis has been entered in Wikipedia and also its draft has been forwarded to many researchers from eminent universities and institutions to verify and validate. It might turn into a theory in near future.

Removed from Wikipedia English but presently exist in Wikipedia German

Related Articles:
1) Face to Face 2) Confident Body Language

September 14, 2014

Would aliens have Emotions?

Famous Grey Aliens
Have you seen flying saucers till date? Did UFOs ever chase you in dark nights? Have greys have tried to contact you telepathically? Have you ever met with extraterrestrial aliens, face to face? Have aliens abducted you, your family members, friends, your town’s mayor or beloved dog?

Most of us may not be able to answer these questions due to lack of sightings of and direct encounters with the third kind. Whatever entire world knows, perceives or thinks about aliens is product of stories shared by those few thousand people who have witnessed, experienced or gone through sightings, contacts, visits, meetings, mind control experiments, under-skin implants and abductions.

Neither I’m an authoritative or an experienced figure of this extraordinary subject nor have any intentions to deny claims made or evidences produced by people. Since I’ve not encountered aliens till date, I think that it’s better not to comment anything about same over here. If it is so then why a long article should be written about them in the first place? What this article is all about?

Well! The sole purpose to write this article was to challenge our thought process, best knowledge and imagination to find answer some greatest questions i. e. Would aliens have emotions (like us)? If yes then how they might be expressing them? Exactly like we do or differently? Please let me clarify here that emotions only are or can be expressed through face or facial expressions is a grave misconception in the first place.

When we talk about aliens or extraterrestrials then two contrasting images of them come into our minds - one is of invading, aggressive, experimenting and exploiting creatures and second is of friendly, prophesizing, helping and warning beings. Science fiction movies, TV serials, novels, articles and witness interviews have added to both images on an equal scale I guess.

Still, it’s very important for all of us know that whether they are emotional beings like us or not. Emotions drive us and make to act because they are nothing but the proven survival strategies that evolved over the millions of years of evolution. Without having emotions and feelings, we would simply turn into mechanical robots and nothing else.

A few months ago, I saw a very interesting episode of the famous Through the Wormhole TV serial - How do aliens think?. In that episode, there was a small section entirely dedicated to emotions, their perception and expressions. According to one speculation made in it, aliens might be having emotions. It was very humorous to see mourning and boozing aliens..

Octopus: The closest creature to alien intelligence
Image Courtesy: The Gurdian

It was not really meant to be a serious statement or a claim about emotions in the extraterrestrial aliens but it was an attempt of giving a humorous touch to the very serious scientific lookout. Still, it’s a very thought provoking speculation and ultimately making some predictions about the possible outcome of interactions between us and the extraterrestrial aliens, if at all it happens in the near future.

We cannot prove about existance of emotions in aliens until we don’t observe their nonverbal behavior or body language systematically. If there are intelligent alien species out there in universe who might have evolved biologically on their home planets then they might have few traits, instincts and qualities that match with what earth bound creatures should have.

Even if those extraterrestrial beings might have evolved in entirely different ways or would have strange genetic blueprint then still emotions might have evolved into them - if not all seven basic emotions then at least few like fear and anger. I'm personally doubtful about emotions like happiness, disgust, sadness etc. being present alien biological species.

Fear is most ancient and a prevalent emotion which was evolved in all living creatures on earth and plants also might have similar kind of reflex. Fear is what make any creature to avoid getting harmed, injured, affected or eventually killed by predators, troubling creatures, adverse climate, diseases, competition, alienation, resource depletion etc.

Location of blood supply changes with emotions.

Why it might be a primary behavioral reflex because it served core purpose of survival and continuation of species? Don't you really think that technological advancement is also a positive product of fear? Fundamentally, all reflexes, emotions, adaptations, traits and qualities are and should be supportive to survival and proliferation of any species. If they are not then there is no benefit in having them in the first place.

Was fear sufficient for survival and continuation of species? Ancestral creatures had to shed fear and chase, pursue, attack, hunt, catch and kill somebody to survive by feeding on it. Hence anger or aggression must have been another powerful emotion in ancient natural world. Anger is exactly opposite to fear but still has physiological implications similar to that of fear.

Human or mammalian emotions like sadness, surprise, happiness, disgust and contempt might have evolved when our remote ancestors needed to develop them for overcoming different environmental, physical, climatic, dietary and social challenges. Some random genetic mutations or even viral infection might have led to the development the emotions in our remote ancestors.

So if any biological species has evolved and survived in its local environment over a significant amount of cosmological time then it must have something like all earth bound creatures do i. e. senses, reflexes, emotions, temperaments, traits and different kinds of defenses i. e. physical, mental, psychological and technological.

I personally think that if aliens are non-biological robots or purely spiritual entities then they shouldn’t (feel necessity to) leave their planets if they are running out of resources, facing extinction, caught it ecosystem collapse or having their planets on the verge of doom. Only if they want to survive, evolve and expand their horizons then they would venture into the outer space.

However, if any species wants to be more advanced (in comparison to others), it has to be able to monitor emotions consciously and remain composed for most of time so that physical, psychological and mental efficiency and capacities could be enhanced and multiplied beyond normal levels in comparison to the other species to be able to outdo them. Matter of fact is that controlling or dominating others technologically could be the sole purpose and goal.

Hence if any alien race is far more advanced, harmonious than us and essentially has succeeded in surviving from their own mistakes then members of that species might be able to control and suppress their negative emotions and corresponding bodily expressions consciously. This is exactly what Neocortex supposedly does inside our brain i. e. advanced and energy hungry brain circuits that monitor emotions and try to regulate them.

Let's hope that aliens turn out to be friendly.

What if alien creatures are neither fearful nor aggressive at all? What if they don't care about going extinct? What would motivate them to find planet Earth and make contact with us in the first place? I personally think that it should be curiosity, strong will of exploring, generosity, empathy and helpfulness only.

This is exactly what we all (would) want to look in the extraterrestrial aliens only for continuation of our own race, survival of biosphere and all other creatures that inhabit this unique planet in the entire known universe.

[Kind Request: If any extraterrestrial aliens could read and appreciate this article then I would kindly request them to leave their comments under the article, only in English or any internationally known language of humans living on planet Earth.]

Related Articles:
1) Can Body Language reveal thoughts? 2) "Nonverbal" is alien way of communication? 3) Artificial Intelligence and Body Language

August 10, 2014

Surprise vs Startle Reflex

You've come back from market and about to enter in your home - the only place in this whole world which entirely belongs to you and your family. It's your own territory with walls built around it. Therefore, you don't feel not that tense or cautious as you use to be in outside world from where you're returning to your 'own cave'.

You see that front door is partly open but nobody seems inside the house while looking through it from a long distance. What's the exact matter? Has anything gone wrong? Where are other family members? You're completely unaware about what is about to happen within few seconds from now. You keep moving on towards the door.

In desperation, you decide to enter in your house to check if somebody has broken in it with evil intentions. As you enter through the partly open door, somebody else welcomes you in an unexpected way. Your naughty child appears in front of you from behind the same door in no time, poses both of his hands as claws and loudly roars like a tiger.

You abruptly shake from tip to toe, palms of you hand open up suddenly, your hands come closer to your face, muscles of your neck become tight and your squint your eyes. You cannot do anything but only watch your kid laughing at you.

You momentarily feel as if you have received an electric shock by accident or your kid given it to you. This automatic response of our body seems to last over fractions of a second. Is it a short-lasting expression of surprise or shock that your child wanted to give you, by coming from behind the door suddenly? What it could be?

Most of the people assume an uncontrolled and sudden response of body as an emotional expression of either fear or surprise. Scientifically, it's none of the both. This response is called as Startle Reflex. All over the world, naughty kids startle others to make fun of them.

Startling reflex is a very primitive neuro-physiological response, evolved to cope up with suddenly appearing signs of dangers. Startling is neither being afraid nor surprised but just an unsophisticated defensive and sudden movement made by body. It shakes or wobbles instantaneously to avoid being caught or harmed by an entity which is not fully understood at the given moment.

It includes unexpected or sudden noise, shock, movement, touch and trespassing. You may easily watch a sleeping infant showing startle response after receiving sudden touch or listening loud. Just go through this clip (below).

Startling of our body lasts over few milliseconds only. Unlike expressing fear or surprise, our body couldn’t react systematically upon instantaneously obtained sensory experiences (stimulus). In fact, startle reflex might have lead to evolution of both fear and surprise in mammals i. e. the group of creatures that we belong to.

Reflexes are pre-determined autonomous behavioral, kinetic or survival strategies which evolved before emotions. Reflexes might have evolved when cortex hadn't taken shape as superior to limbic system. So what is the difference between startle reflex and surprise? Let's try to find out same from body language cues.

If we really pay close attention at facial expressions for surprise then we can easily find the difference. While expressing surprise, our eyes remain wide open, eyebrows arch upward, mouth opens, jaw is dropped and sound expels.

By doing so, our brain tries to collect more and more visual clues from the unprecedented entity which is drawing our overwhelming attention. Most telling sign of surprise is that our eyes remain open to receive visual clues.

In case of startle reflex, it is not required that our eyes should remain open. Just listening to an abrupt or loud sound is enough for our brain to make us shake. Hence, both purpose and expressions of surprise and startle Reflex are different from each other.

Related Articles:
1) Fear Factor 2) Turtle Effect: Body response under threat 3) The Body Seeking Comfort 4) Amygdala Hijack: Irrational Physical Reactions 5) Chicken and Egg Paradox 6) Body Language under Stress

May 11, 2014

Analytical Interview: Are HR Professionals ready for it?

Show if you can really play.
Gone are the days when kings, leaders, landlords, chefs, merchants, masters and captains of ship used to recruit their employees only after adequately ensuring that candidates have required skills to perform tasks.

Royal examinations, tests or verifications used to be quick, tough and very thorough, thus debarring unskilled, inefficient, incompetent or unfit candidates from possibility of getting employment opportunity in the first place.

The candidates were asked to prove themselves by showing what actually they can do or perform (i. e. through actions or performances) and not just claiming the same verbally because only actions speak louder than words.

Haven’t you heard a classical story in which a sorrowing king promises that he would let the lucky young man marry his daughter (of course a young and gorgeous princess) who could rescue her from clutches of a mightily witch living in a spooky castle in high mountains?

Apart of good qualification, personality and etiquette; getting truly skilled and proficient employees is a great challenge for every employer i. e. let it be running business in any domain and part of world. Job interview is the only available window through which an employer or recruitment officers can ‘look into’ potential employees in a limited period of time.

No other opportunity, other than an interview, can be sought to examine any person as a deserving candidate for a particular job. Thus interviewing becomes a difficult, elaborate and also tiresome task for most employers and human resource professionals.

Is Qualification sufficient?
The Conventional ‘question and answer’ interviews rely mostly on information provided by a candidate, the documents it submits to the scrutinizing authority and some few well-know or established nonverbal clues of authenticity.

While verbal analysis remains limited to scrutiny of facts and figures only, nonverbal analysis provides us large spectrum of information about candidate being interviewed in real time.

Why nonverbal scrutiny and checking body language is required after all? Never forget that actions and expressions are primeval, genuine and profound than words. Paying careful attention to non-obvious clues and tone of voice could reveal much insight about the candidate.

Different nonverbal clues given away by a person being questioned can convey affective (emotional), cognitive, associative, physical and social statuses with varying degrees. However, many interviewers don’t have critical skills to obtain and analyze different nonverbal clues given away by a candidate being questioned.

Hence it raises a great question about core purpose behind recruitment of skilled employees. Great responsibility of any employer or human resource personal is to find that where a candidate might fit itself well if sufficient evidences of its credibility are found.

"Companies which suffer from poor performance from an employee, actually lack skilled human resource professionals to pick the able one."

While facial expressions only convey both genuine and fake emotional state of a candidate, most interviewers mostly rely on them only. Many seasoned and experienced HR professionals cannot collect and analyze different types of clues other than facial expressions so chances of getting false and misleading information become higher.

Especially when patients and enthusiasm of interviewers gets challenged after multiple and long running interview sessions, they might take negative steps out of anger, boredom and frustration during interview. At many instances, truly skilled candidates are debarred whereas ‘smart’ ones easily get through due to their skills to hide certain clues from interviewers.

Asking good questions is a great challenge.

Thus accurate collection of context specific nonverbal clues with respect to what kind of question is being asked becomes very important. True purpose of any recruitment procedure is not just to authenticate information being provided by candidates during screening but also to understand affective (emotional), cognitive, associative, physical and social clues given by them and try to co-relate those clues with facts and figures being shared.

However, due to lack of required skillfulness in the context specific (analytical) questioning, clue collecting and analyzing; the conventional interview sessions cannot reveal the information and clues required for further verifications of a candidate’s true professional and personal capabilities.

Looking at the core issues related with scrutiny and authentication during recruitment, employers need to implement Analytical/Behavioral Interviewing Techniques. Actually, employers and bosses need to rigorously train their Human Resource officers to get skillful in them in the first place.

Apart of standards established by analytical interviewing experts from other countries, local experts and researchers should be deployed to identify ethnic, social and cultural specific nonverbal clues that can give clear indications of authenticity of information being provided by candidates.

Finding, recruiting and also retaining is always a great challenge in front of employers and establishments. Analytical interviewing could bring astonishing advantages to both interviewers and candidates because true purpose of it is finding what a candidate is exactly skillful in and compatible with.

Hiring candidates based only upon clues like good eye contact, smile, hand shake and excellent verbal skills could prove 'costly' because it could hamper basic goals of any purposeful establishment which are better performance, efficiency, profitability and prosperity.

Human Resource or HR professionals capable of reading body language accurately is the true game changer for companies. Only question is if are they even considering about it yet?

Related Articles:
1) My career saving lie detection 2) Face of a liar(?) 3) Inside Interrogation Room 4) Are you a 'flying' terrorist? 5) Entire body can’t lie

April 14, 2014

Body Language in Advertisement

Body language and commercial advertisement is a very strong connection. We can hardly imagine commercial advertisements that run on our TVs and during online videos without any human models in them at all.

When it comes to include the human models to promote product and services, they must make proper facial and bodily expressions and if not - at least give symbolic clues or hints to the target consumers and customers.

Even images, cartoon characters, statues, puppets or clay models are sufficient to get the indented persuasive message across as they are used sometimes to replace the human models. Hence, Nonverbal Communication in the commercial advertisements and endorsements is a vast area of research and application.

In March 2014, an Australian student from 12th standard who was pursuing her career with South Australian Certificate of Education (, personally contacted me by an email for a general guidance. She was working on a research project and she was trying to refine her research by getting advice from field experts.

She told me that she had gone through the articles posted on this website. According to herself, they have proved to be extremely helpful for her projectf. She had very interesting questions in the line with her project, to which I tried to answer or comment against.

The questions she asked and answers/comments I gave against as as following:

Question 1. Do you believe body language is used in advertising?

Answer: Of course, body language is used in an advertisement world. If human models are there then body language bound to be used consciously by most. Very good and common example is (fake, social or polite) smile. However, don't mistake or confine body language with or to facial expressions only.

Question 2. Why/why not?

Answer: 'Why' body language is used? Answer is that if human models don't express themselves unconsciously or deliberately (conscious expressions) then consumers (or target audience) couldn't able to try to relate themselves with models and finally the product or service being promoted.

Question 3. Do you think using the correct body language can positively influence consumer choice?

Answer: Of course, context specific and correct body language can positively influence consumer choice for sure. Good example is tooth paste advertisements in which models can be seen smiling at end. If they don't smile to show whitened teeth then that advertisement won't meet its purpose.

Question 4. Do you think using the incorrect body language can negatively influence consumer choice?

Answer: Incorrect body language, movements, expressions or behavioral clues can influence consumer's choice
negatively. Very good example is a male model showing apathetic facial expressions and improper or unfit body movements in advertisement of fitness or sports related items.

Question 5. What do you think are the most effective methods (in regards to body language) advertisers can use to influence consumer choice?

Answer: I think that answers given against 3rd and 4th question are sufficient. Most of us people get influenced by effective clues given by human models to attract attention at, emphasize or underline certain features and appeal to user the product or service.

Question 6. Do you think certain fields of advertisement benefit more from using body language to attract consumers (eg. Ads for: sporting events, jewellery, food etc)?

Answer: Advertisements which are mostly related with physical, emotional, economical and social aspects of human world should (or say 'must') utilize proper body language (techniques) to attract and retain consumers.

Question 7. As a professional, do you personally think that there is anything I should further consider to refine my research?

Answer: Are you thinking to do master or doctorate with the subject? I would personally suggest you to study more about affective and context specific nonverbal communication in the field of advertisement.

Louis Vuitton commercial with models employing body language techniques

If you closely observe and analyze the face expressions and ther overall body language used in the commercial advertisements then you would realize that only positive emotions and uplifting moods are portrayed at the end by the models.

Related Articles:
1) The unspoken sales tool 2) Power Postures

February 19, 2014

Basic Gestures: Best Survival Tools for Travelers

Like most other enthusiasts, I like to travel and especially to those locations that never been visited before by me. Traveling is a unique kind of experience because it widens person’s horizon and also level of understanding about different types of environments, places and people.

A traveler put itself on test because it has to adapt to new place and environment while assuring its own well being. A traveling individual always has to remain fully attentive towards incoming signals that could give clear idea about different biological and non-biological entities.

This is the very reason why traveling generates the feelings such as thrill, achievement or adventure in the minds of the most people. Traveling to different locations, facing local people and adapting with local climates teaches many things that stagnation doesn't.

On the other hand, traveling person has to remain more conscious while sending out signals or communicating with native people. If the traveler and native people know same language(s) then there wouldn’t be many issues other than violation of some local cultural protocols and norms.

Both parties need to make certain compromises to let interaction and dealing remain smooth as much as possible. But what if both parties don’t know each others' language(s) at all? What if a traveler is visiting a territory that is filled with people belonging to entirely different ethnicity, race and culture? This is the real challenge that many people hesitate or even avoid to face.

Language barrier?
Many travelers might get frustrated or even give up in this situation because both parties could not understand each other well and perhaps feel misunderstood by each other. Nothing seems moving smoothly! Language barrier makes both traveler and native people ‘Dumb’ for each other. Still, they both parties need to cope up with language barrier.

Moreover, the traveler might feel guilty and restless because of certain local codes of conduct that might have been broken by it. There’s no way to convince native people that violations were unintentional and due to lack of knowledge only. Nobody would like to return back to home beaten or harassed by native people

What would you do when you are asked to migrate and live over a considerable amount of time period in a foreign territory? How you would communicate with native people without knowledge of their language(s)? Successful spoken communication without a good translator or translation handbook seems highly impossible in any foreign territory.

Still, we dare to venture in new people because we human beings (or any other animals on this planet) know a unique way of exchanging information without words or numbers. We all very well know, observe and experience that facial expressions of basic emotions are almost common across the globe.

There’s no other commonly known, observed and experienced facial expression or gesture like a smile - even if it’s genuine, fake, forced, polite or social. However, conveying information using muscles of face isn’t enough so we need to use our hands for exchanging different types of data, ideas, facts and figures.

Of course, we cannot achieve precision/accuracy and attain variety using gestures the way an established spoken or a sign language can. Any typical spoken or sign language may have its own (limited) vocabulary to meet different demands.

Yet there are few well known gestures that we all inherit and can easily learn. These gestures can really help us in surviving and negotiating challenges across geographical boundaries.

Some commonly known gestures or signals

Few commonly understood *facial emblems, neck movements and especially hand gestures which are equivalent to different words, phrase and sentences can definitely make a great difference. If you know them well and have used before accurately then facial and hand gestures can really give you an upper hand in foreign territory.

More chances are that native people would understand you clearly and instantaneously by observing your gestures as compared to any other attempts you do. In some situations, it could make difference between life and death too.

This world is full of both opportunities and challenges so we need to negotiate with them in an equal manner. We might miss many opportunities hidden exactly behind those few challenges we’re trying to avoid in our journey.

Destination Chennai
Before migrating to Chennai (a large south eastern port city in Tamilnadu state of India) with my wife to grab a good career opportunity, many people expressed great concern about language barrier that I would face. I wasn’t aware about native language - Tamil at all.

Moreover, the language is entirely different than any north Indian languages (specifically language like Hindi - world’s 4th largest population speaks it) because of its ancient and classical nature.

Still, I wasn’t much worried about communicating with native people because of knowledge about common hand gestures. In fact, I decided to put myself on a test - Efficiency and accuracy of gestures (or nonverbal signals) I use to communicate with people in different situations.

Hand gestures alone or sometimes combined with *facial emblems, neck positioning/movements and para-linguistic annotations can be used for conveying or enquiring numerical information, physical conditions, directions, geographical features, physical location, weather, characteristics/features, feasibility (related to something) and different objects or entities.

Different messages can be generated by making
solitary gestures, by combining many or putting them in a certain sequence. However, one also needs to keep in mind that a particular gesture can convey message that can have an entirely different or opposite meaning in foreign population.

Vertically held open palm silently says ‘Stop’ or ‘Enough’ in western hemisphere but same gesture means ‘Come’ in Iraq. It’s exactly like single word having different meanings in different languages.

'Stop' Gesture
Good examples of common nonverbal signaling equivalent to different words, phrases and sentences are Hi, Hello, Bye, OK, Yes, Good, Bad, I’m (not) good/fine., My name is (your name)., I’m from (name of your native place)., I’m here., Thanks!, Sorry/Excuse me., Beautiful, Please, No, Enough, Not, Here (it is), There (it is), Crazy, This/that, Up(ward), Down(ward), Long, Short, Small, Big, Tall, Inside, Outside, Open, Close, Entity having shape like (the way hand gestures you make), It’s me., My mistake/fault, This/that is mine., On feet, Where’s the place/object (that you want to go to, get or see)? Oh I see., Which way? Who are you? What is price (of the particular thing)? What’s this/that? How (come)? What’s the matter?, Look at me/here/there/(or any other direction you point at)., Which one?, Bring this/that to me., I’m (not) coming/going., It’s (not) OK., It’s here/there. Stop, Come, Follow me., I’m (not) going., I don’t want this/that., Go, You may go first. Let’s go!, I take care of this/that., I’m thinking., Interesting, Is it so?, Disgusting, Hmm, Surprising, Tasty food, Terrifying, Keep this/that away from me. Though I’ve given only few examples here but many adverbs and verbs or actions can be represented by hand gestures only.

Can a person learn foreign language(s) also on its own? Of course, it’s very possible! A willing person needs to pay keen attention at native people using different hand gestures, vocal tones, *facial emblems, neck positions/movements
and other body movements during dialogs. By picking nonverbal signals, the learner can easily figure out what native person might have spoken or said. For same, situational awareness is also very essential to have good idea of different contexts.

By sensing repetitive verbal and nonverbal messages in clusters, anybody can learn to speak any foreign language within just few days or months at least with a limited vocabulary. Undoubtedly, this is an extraordinary power of nonverbal communication that everybody would accept unconditionally.

Are they really 'Dumb'?
Words and numbers help us to exchange accurate and elaborate information about real and abstract entities. Even large vocabulary coupled with good knowledge of grammar can help somebody in achieving great success in fields like literature, media and education.

However, when it comes to basic survival situation then only few words are sufficient to get your message across. In same way, few commonly known hand gestures and *facial emblems can definitely help you in inducing their literal meaning in the mind of receivers.

Just look at thousands of dumb and deaf people who can easily communicate through sign languages that have numerous hand and facial gestures. Perhaps, it's the most advantegeous and conscious use of body language cues.

*Facial Emblems: Voluntarily movement of facial muscles to convey information especially cognitive and felt-emotive statuses. Good examples of emblems are frowning (pulling inner edges of both eyebrows together), raising eyebrows, protruding lower lip, biting lips, circling lips, biting tongue, pulling down both corners of lips, pressing lips together etc.

Related Articles:
1) Words and gestures are alike 2) Gestures: Are they learned or genetic? 3) Self-communication by gesturing 4) Cultural connection behind gesturing 5) Why exactly languages evolved?

January 28, 2014

The Body seeking comfort

When we read bodies for their underlying meaning, it’s important to understand that the body is controlled by emotion and that the inner workings of our minds are constantly juggling many factors all of which seek to create comfort. One might also say that bodies seek to escape or eliminate discomfort, but if a body runs from discomfort, it is the same as running toward comfort. Thus, seeking comfort is the primary motivation behind body language. Let me explain.

The mind is a complex organ but it is runs over very simple principles. It is primarily motivated by fear. The mind seems to be complex and creatively driven, but it is in fact primitive in its design. While it is true that we are capable of higher-order thinking, emotions are still a large driver in our behavior and decision-making process and these are rooted in our deep reptilian base.

When you think of the human mind, think of it like a piece of clay. At its base is the primitive reptilian clump - the brain stem. The reptilian brain produces visceral bodily responses such as heart rate, blood pressure, circulation, respiration, digestion and reproduction. Over evolution, different pieces of clay have been scabbed over top i. e. the neocortex ('neo' means new).

The reptilian produces nonverbal body language that is deemed more truthful than that generated by the neocortex which is capable of producing conscious movements. While part of the brain can work consciously, it is the clay at the bottom, the root clump, the reptilian brain that interferes with the mind’s ability to work free of emotion.

The origins of our more intense motivations are driven by our primitive emotions. While we like to imagine humans as being much more sophisticated than our animal counterpart, we still largely act based on gut instincts.

ave you ever wondered what drives people to make certain decisions in their daily lives?  Do you assume that they are trying to maximize their fitness and well-being, that they are perfectly rational? You shouldn’t. While people are capable of rational thinking, they often make poor decisions overall. While some of the blame might fall on the lack of knowledge i. e. imperfect assumptions and information, a large part of it is due to emotional underpinnings.

When we talk investments, greed and fear are primary motivators. They often lead the investor astray.

In body language, the primary emotional motivator is safety and comfort. When the body curls up into a fetal position by pulling the arms and legs together, the body language reader might correctly read discomfort, but the root cause within a person is sought comfort.

'Fetal' or self-protecting posture
The body balls up to remind itself of being protect by Mom during infancy and within the womb. It just feels comfortable to huddle up into a ball. When the negative emotion passes, the body will find comfort sprawled out on a couch.

On the other hand, the smug lawyer feels comfortable sprawled out all the time. He puts his arms over the chair next to him, gesticulates in conversation, juts his chin out and acts boisterous. His confidence (or cockiness) is displayed by his level of comfort

We remind ourselves of the comforts we received throughout our childhood in many ways. We pet and stroke the back of our head, we hug ourselves with our arms, we cross and hide behind objects to block ourselves from overexposure.

These remind us of comforts provided by Mom and Dad where they would hug us tightly, stroke the back of our head and provide us a secure place to hide - tucked in between their legs with only our heads poking out!

Comfortable people will hold their bodies loose rather than rigid and their body will move with fluidity. They will gesture with their speech instead of freezing instantly or awkwardly, called “flash frozen.” Comfortable people mirror others around them instead of avoiding synchrony. Their breath rate will be similar and they will adapt similar postures instead of showing differences.

'Spread out' or comfortable posture
Bodies show discomfort by increased heart rate, breath rate, sweating, a change in normal color in the face or neck, trembling or shaking in the hands lips, or elsewhere, compressing the lips, fidgeting, drumming the fingers and other repetitive behaviors. Voices often crack when under stress, mouths might dry up producing noticeable swallowing, “hard swallows”, or frequent throat clearing.

Discomfort is shown by using objects as barriers. A person may hold drinking glasses to hide parts of their face or use walls and chairs while standing to lean against for support.

A person suffering discomfort might engage in eye blocking behaviors by covering their eyes with their hands or seem to talk through them or even squint so as to impede what is being said from entering their minds. The eyes might also begin to flutter or increase in overall blink rate showing an internal struggle.

Many people have wrongfully discounted the hidden meanings behind body language. They say, I’m not hugging myself tightly because I’m scared or timid, I just feel more comfortable that way. However, as an expert in reading people, ask yourself why balling the self up feels so comfortable.

When analyzing people, make sure you read them through the principle of seeking comfort. Comfort and discomfort are powerful forces in the emotional lives of people especially in nonverbal communication.

Author: Mr. Christopher Phillip, Guelph, Ontario, Canada. (He's a creator of website.)

Related Articles:
1) Turtle Effect: Body response under threat 2) Fear Factor 3) Surprise vs Startle Reflex 4) Basic responses in stressful situations 5) Body Language under Stress

January 12, 2014

It’s Written All Over You...

Some lies are performed brilliantly. What goes into telling a lie..? The more intelligent a species, the larger the neocortex and the better the ability to lie. For obvious reasons, man tops that list (and more technically, women outshine the men). But not everybody can lie with a ‘straight face’. Why..? Is there a force that works against our deceptive words..? If yes, where does this force originate and how does it manifest itself? This article aims to develop a basic understanding of the emotive processes that underlie deceptive speech and how our bodies can sometimes, have a mind of their own.

In the thousands of years that man has walked the earth, there is one thing about us that hasn’t changed: our instinct for self-preservation; an innate desire to save ourselves and keep ourselves at a distance from anything that threatens our existence. An instinct embedded in all living organisms, ours has taken on several forms and doesn’t just come in to play when our physical selves are vulnerable.

Gradual changes in Physical Features

It has been a while since we’ve found ourselves running for dear life from felines somewhere in the African wilderness. But that’s not to say modern day society doesn’t host its share of situations held synonymous with wild cats.

There is a part of the human brain that never forgot the self-preservation tactics it strategically developed to help pre-historic man cope with trouble. This part of the brain is one of three parts of what later came to be known as the ‘Triune Brain’ or ‘the three-in-one brain’. The Triune Brain comprises of the Limbic Brain, the Reptilian Brain and the Neo-cortex (Human Brain).

The human brain is the one that churns out untruths. The Limbic Brain is one that does not think - it just reacts. It is so dead honest that no matter what the human brain comes up with, the limbic brain finds a way to shield itself and you from it. This performance is obviously dependent on the outrageousness of the falsity. Not many of us squirm when we feel the urge to tell someone their (distasteful) new hair-do is exquisite.


You’ve probably noticed several times how when you’re watching a horror flick, some scenes so petrifying make you tense up. You sit perfectly still almost holding your breath (at least till the bad guy is shot 7 times). You obviously don’t plan to sit that way with every intense scene. This is the Freeze response devised by the limbic brain to make you “inconspicuous to the threat at large”. You’re body senses danger and the first thing it does is tries to make you less of a target by reducing movement and thus reducing your chances of being noticed. Observe how the limbic system kicks in even when deception is not involved; but mere fright.

Apply the above to a scenario where a guilty crime suspect is being questioned. The first thing he might do unconsciously is stop making unnecessary movements while he tries to assess how much the police know about him. It would help if the police could visually pick up when his breathing gets shallow and resumes normalcy.

Taking Flight

This is by far the most interesting and extensive strategy developed by the limbic system. How convenient it would be if we could just literally run away from experiences or people we didn’t like. Sometimes when in a group, you can pick out the people who really don’t want to be there.

The feet being the farthest from the brain are considered to be the most honest; not many of us keep track of what our feet are doing anyway in times of positive excitement or stress. Many a time, your desire to leave a terribly boring meeting might resonate in your feet - one of which could be facing the exit.

The Flight response is more complex than just assessing which way the feet want to run off to. This response takes place in the form of distancing as well. Take a look at this couple. Observe how their bodies are slightly tilted away or disoriented from one another.


When the freeze and flight responses are not viable options or have failed, the Fight response may be resorted to. This does not necessarily mean a physical fight but could be by way of aggression in demeanor, posture or words.

We’re all well-versed with the three wise monkeys. But what do they have to do with us?

Three wise monkeys
The honest brain (the limbic brain) tends to get scandalized when it hears dishonest words. Almost as though it wants to stop the words from flowing, it quickly makes the speaker cover the source of these scandalous words - the mouth. However, like many obvious actions that can’t be performed so openly by an adult in public, this action is disguised so it can be executed without calling for attention. This is one reason for the very popular nose-rub.

Show a guilty crime suspect evidence of his incriminating text messages and he might want to distance himself or take flight from what he’s being shown. This is what he might look like if he does that. The same is in the case of someone who probably does not want to hear what you are saying or has invalidated what you’re saying.

Finally, following an uncomfortable or threatening situation, the Limbic brain switches to Pacifist mode. This is the time during which the brain helps you soothe yourself. Neck touching, wiping/ stroking sweaty palms along legs while seated, the comforting self-hug are all examples of pacifying behaviors.

In summary, the act of lying is something that puts most people at unease. This unease is exposed by the limbic system through pre-set codes like self-saving freeze, flight or fight gestures. It is to be kept in mind that such gestures are not symbolic of lies, rather merely of the experienced discomfort or anxiety which innocent people may face as well.

While body language is construed widely as casual entertainment; it is based on instinctive mechanisms that we all use. For example, it is the limbic system at work again when you intuitively decide that you like or dislike someone almost at first sight. While this article focuses on discomfort behavior, body language also contributes much to rapport and trust-building; because what we see counts.

#Truine Brain: The triune brain model suggests the basal ganglia was acquired first, which is thought to be in charge of our primal instincts, followed by the limbic system, which is in charge of our emotions or affective system, then the neocortex, which is thought to be responsible for rational or objective thought.

The triune brain model divides the brain into three parts: the reptilian complex, which includes the basal ganglia and brain stem, among other structures; the limbic system, which includes the amygdala, hippocampus, and cingulate gyrus, among other structures; and the neocortex.

The triune brain is a model of the evolution of the vertebrate fore-brain and behavior, proposed by the American physician and neuroscientist Paul D. MacLean. MacLean originally formulated his model in the 1960s and propounded it at length in his 1990 book The Triune Brain in Evolution.

Author: Ms. Rebecca D'Silva (Goa, India)
LLB, M.Sc. (Psychology and Investigation) from UK
Micro-Expressions Analyst
Related Articles:
1) Body Language Brain 2) Face or a liar(?) 3) Body rubbing to soothe brain 4) Are you a 'flying' terrorist?

January 04, 2014

Chameleon Fabrics for Social Clues?

How do you communicate intent and response when spoken language isn't possible? How do you let someone know something - when all you have are color-changing skin cells (chromatophores)? When we are afraid, our faces are very expressive, our verbal utterances even more so.

When we are confidently aggressive, our words and nonverbal gestures let everyone know just how confident we feel we are. This allows us to engage at a distance and avoid direct conflicts which might result in serious injury. But what if you are a lizard?

Until now, scientists were unsure about just how expressive the chromatophores of chameleons can really be. Scientists have found that they don’t simply change color to hide from predators. Chameleons use their skin cells to send nonverbal messages to one another.

Scientists can actually deduce the outcome of a nonverbal conflict between lizards, just by studying changes in their skin cell colors (Arizona State University, 2013; Ligon and McGraw, 2013). Like us, lizards send messages from a distance.

A little background: Humans are endotherms (we generate and regulate our own heat). But many creatures (like chameleons) are ectotherms (they depend on external temperatures). A side benefit though, is that only ectotherms can control the color of their skin cells. But wouldn't it be great if humans could, too?

Humans are extremely social creatures. So much so, that we have a number of disorders related specifically to inabilities to catch (or attend) nonverbal social cues (autism and ADHD for example). We also have automobiles, social media devices of various kinds and engage in very brief encounters that preclude our natural propensity to display nonverbal behaviors - the very same signals others rely on to figure out what we are doing or trying to say.

What if we could all be chameleons? What if we could make our skin tell others what they need to know - without having to stop what we’re doing and explain? What if those with attention deficits, autism and similar could catch all the nonverbal messages they missed, by simply looking at (conveniently) persisting, extra-expressive explanations on our bodies?

Researchers are working on woven LED displays like PLED (polymer light emitting diodes) which people can wear like fabric (Strickland, n. d.). Right now these luminescent fabrics make great advertising displays, or colorful stage costumes. But what if psychologists used them to help us send nonverbal messages to one another, while we are otherwise immersed (or overwhelmed) in a social setting? What if our clothing could express not only our taste and personality, but our real personality - what we are feeling very specifically but others couldn't see?

Then when someone hears (or misses) what we are saying and is unsure what we mean, a quick glance will elucidate that lost meaning in the same way chameleons send messages from a distance. “Sandy” Pentland (2008) of MIT Human Dynamics Lab is already experimenting with sociometric badges people can wear to send “honest signals” to one another.

This may allow gatherings of individuals to passively transmit the needed nonverbal signals needed to facilitate perception of social cues. Now imagine these badges using PLED fabric - a fabric equipped to pick up biofeedback signals and display them for others (instead of self-feedback) - now folks will know what we mean, not just what we are saying. And, they will know it longer than a simple gesture - it will be available to help them disambiguate meaning at whatever rate they are individually capable.

Imagine a classroom of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), side by side with average schoolchildren - engaged in the experience of learning new content - with the help of peer chameleons any one of which may hold the nonverbal social cue they missed. Wouldn't that be something?

Prof. Dr. Lonny Meinecke
(Location: Arizona, USA)
Author: Prof. Dr. Lonny Meinecke (Psychologist and Doctorate in Psychology from Grand Canyon University (Phoenix, USA))

1) Arizona State University (2013, December 11). Chameleons use colorful language to communicate. Newswise. Retrieved from
2) Pentland, A. (2008). Honest signals: How they shape our world. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
3) Ligon, R. A; McGraw, K. J. (2013). Chameleons communicate with complex colour changes during contests: Different body regions convey different information. Biology Letters, 9(6), 20130892. doi:10.1098/rsbl.2013.0892
4) Strickland, J. (n.d.). Fabric displays using LEDs. Retrieved from

Related Articles:
1) What is Nonverbal Communication?