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

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 - 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.

Have 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 - 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 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 is it 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 adopt like-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 www.BodyLanguageProject.com)
(For more Body Language Learning:
- 300+ page FREE body language Ebook: http://bodylanguageproject.com/the-only-book-on-body-language-that-everybody-needs-to-read
- 1000+  term body language dictionary: http://www.bodylanguageproject.com/dictionary
- 100+ pages FREE Body Language Project: Tiny Book Of Body Language: http://bodylanguageproject.com/tiny-book-of-body-language
- Body Language Project: Dating, Attraction and Flirtatious Body Language: http://bodylanguageproject.com/body-language-free-book)

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1 comment:

  1. A Semiophrenic NonverbalistJanuary 30, 2014 at 5:57 PM

    Here's a critique of every dubious statement in this article: http://jeesusjalutasallveelaeval.blogspot.com/2014/01/the-body-seeking-comfort.html

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