The Scientific Portal of Behavior, Body Language and Nonverbal Communication#

Search for

August 11, 2022

Can body language reveal thoughts?

We have seen mentalists or psychic readers which can tell your credit card’s PIN number, your personal cell phone number, your address or even other private details just by observing you or asking your name in the very first meeting on a road or during a stage show.

Going even further, some mentalists or psychic readers can tell details about an individual just by looking at its photographs. Such ability empowers the readers to see through an individual like a large X-Ray machine. This is outstandingly mind blowing but equally scary too.

Although highly debated or doubted, mentalism or psychic reading might be a latest phenomenon in a million year long human developmental. However, everybody doesn’t need to a mentalist or a psychic reader to know about others because we all commonly share different emotions, moods, feelings, intentions, impulses, urges, desires, biases, approaches and attitudes. Human body is designed to express, convey, display or give them away almost unconsciously throughout our lives.

We can decode or understand somebody’s psychological, social and cognitive status and condition just by keenly observing its body language in a given context and at a given moment. Hence, decoding body language is largely and mostly equated with reading minds of the others in real-time. It’s practically and socially an extremely advantageous ability. Surprisingly, everybody has this natural ability. However, the degree of accuracy of reading others differs from one individual to another.

Being human is more than creatures with mostly predictive and instinctive behaviors. We possess a unique ability of thinking. Thinking sets us apart from creatures but thoughts set two individuals apart. Unlike commonly shared spectrum of physical expressions and behaviors, it’s the kind of thinking and thoughts which sets one individual apart from another. Obviously, the greatest question is Can body language of an individual reveal its thoughts?.

Before trying to find the answer of the question, let’s try to understand WHAT EXACTLY IS THINKING?. Thinking or forming thoughts is a conscious and also higher cognitive process which takes place even without any sensory stimulation or input. Process of thinking broadly includes judging, reasoning, forming opinion, crafting concept, generating idea, solving problem and deliberating. Emotions interfere with thinking process whereas thoughts regulate emotions.

Triune Brain or Three Brain Sections

We humans have three different sections of brain i. e. Reptile, Limbic/Mammalian and Neocortex. Both reptile and limbic sections initiate and regulate behaviors, expressions and displays related with survival, social interactions, territorial needs and mating. On the other hand, the thinking process supposedly takes place within and largely governed by neocortex (literally 'new brain') which is recently developed section inside the brain which sits right above the reptile and limbic sections.

Statue of the thinking man or the thinker is famous. The man is sitting with isolated, adapting closed body posture, giving support of his right hand to his face, maintaining downwards gaze or almost closing his eyes. By sitting at one place, he has diverted his entire physical energy and focus towards the (deep) thinking process or contemplation. While thinking about something, almost every human individual unconsciously switches to the similar kind of body posture.

Normally, frequency, intensity and duration of physical movements is strongly correlated with thinking process due to energy demand dynamics. Brain is an energy hungry machine which consumes almost 20% of the entire energy that body produces. Moreover, thinking alone burns 2/3 out of the same. Minimized or completed halted body movements help in diverting blood, glucose, oxygen and nutrients to the brain and especially the neocortex.

The Thinking Man
By looking at physical isolation, minimized movements, lowered muscle movements on face, steady neck and unmoving eyes; we can instantaneously know that an individual is thinking at the moment. Eye ball movements can give clues about cognitive processing such as memory recall.

Tiny muscular movements and/or micro-expressions on face reveal how the individual is reacting to its own thoughts. Diverted gaze, fixated eyes and partially or fully closed eyelids suggest the high degree of deliberate focus and concentration while thinking.

Hence, we can easily know if an individual is thinking just by looking at its overall body language. However, body language itself cannot reveal the thoughts of the same individual. The textual, numerical, symbolic and geometrical details of ongoing thoughts cannot be known. Other than using sign languages, it’s extremely tough or even impossibly to convey the exact details by using facial expressions, emblems, postures and hand gestures voluntarily.

Spoken language is the only medium of expressing, sharing or spreading thoughts, ideas, concepts, opinions, judgments and plans which are the ultimate products of activities taking placed among billions of neurons or brain cells. They are almost impossible to read from outside until expressed voluntarily. We simply can’t understand the exact details of thoughts until an individual conveys them verbally, puts them down on a paper or acts upon them ultimately.

Don’t you still believe it? Please let me explain it very simply. This very article made up of hundreds of words, numbers and special characters put under several paragraphs is the final product of my own thoughts about this very extremely interesting subject. Without publishing the same, how come you could have understood my own thoughts about it? Indeed, it was next to impossible! Isn’t it? Hope you clearly understood my point by now.

"An individual's body language can and does reveal thinking but not the exact details of its thoughts."

By the way, technology is trying to read human thoughts. In 2019, Facebook made an announcement of developing a device that can read thoughts directly from ongoing neural activities and translate them into words. Initially, this development is intended to help the patients who are suffering from paralysis to express their thoughts. However, end goal of is to provide the Brain Machine Interface to control and operate other devices.

Do you have Tin Foil Hats to prevent 'Thought Hacking'?

[Special Note: Our brain has an unique ability of visual thinking which is absolutely free from the words and languages. Visual thinking is thinking in the form of images, illustrations, icons, pictures and symbols.

Visual thinking utilizes our brain’s visual processing center and it is extremely useful in organizing data, connecting different pieces of information, understanding complex concepts or ideas and modelling.]

Related Articles:
1) Is Human Communication 93% Nonverbal? 2) Self-communication by gesturing 3) Why exactly languages evolved? 4) Body Language Brain 5) Words and gestures are alike 6) Would aliens have emotions?

February 01, 2022

Reading Body Language - Baseline

Many body language experts, behavioral analysts or social readers confidently claim of being able to read any individual quickly by assuming that a particular behavior has a fixed meaning universally e. g. crossing hands over chest is a defensive stance. Additionally, there are thousands of books, presentations, articles and videos which are filled with many of such quick body language reading tips that can instantaneously turn an ordinary individual into a so-called 'master people reader'. However, the great question is that Has it really helped many of us in becoming a real expert?

We tend to conveniently ignore that every individual isn’t exactly identical to other even in a small group of closely related people. Although there are a lot of fundamental similarities among all of us, everybody isn’t exactly the same while perceiving, moving, behaving, speaking, expressing, reacting and interacting with others. Therefore, it’s really important to know how an individual normally moves, behaves, speaks, expresses, reacts and interacts in normal, routine, comfortable and stress-free situations, conditions and circumstances.

This detailed and attentive process is called as establishing the Baseline of an individual’s behaviors. Once we establish the baseline of an individual, we can easily detect changes happening in real time when the same individual is experiencing stress and discomfort. Being able to establish the accurate baseline is the key to detect deviations, anomalies or nuances in the same because they silently convey that something is off e. g. an outgoing, talkative and socially interacting young man suddenly starts staying all alone, silent and secretive.

Developing a good rapport with an individual within a less amount of time to establish its baseline is what highly successful interrogators, lie detectors, undercover agents and intelligence officers do before they start asking serious questions. Once the (sufficient) baseline is established, they can detect subtle changes is body movements, postures, gestures, facial expressions and speech quite easily and accurately. By doing the same, they can quickly pick (level of) stress and discomfort in responses from the individual.

Although Polygraph machine isn’t unanimously and universally considered as a reliable tool for detecting deception, establishing the baseline is the starting point of polygraph tests. The individual who is subjected to the polygraph test is asked a few normal questions like name, gender, birth date, birth place, color of dress, today’s date etc. which don’t induce stress and discomfort. It’s done to establish the baseline of physiological responses so that deviations, anomalies or nuances in them can be accurately detected later.

Establishing the baseline isn’t only game changing in interpreting an individual’s body language in motion but also still images especially portrait photographs. Recently, while looking at Miss Universe 2021 Harnaaz Sandhu’s portrait photo on cover page of Vogue magazine’s Indian edition, I really wondered if she was showing an expression of contempt on her face or not. Did Winning the Miss Universe title for India after 21 years turn her into a contemptuous lady?

Miss Universe 2021 Harnaaz Sandhu (India)

Understanding the great importance of establishing baseline before arriving to wrong conclusion, I checked a few of solo photographs from her earlier life. This confirmed that asymmetrical smile on her face was not about winning the crown but it's the way she has been portraying smile on her face from her childhood. I guess that she might have undergone a rigorous and prolonged training to break her smile baseline especially in front of people.

Establishing baseline is at the core of accurately detecting changes with their severity in real time. It's also very important to keep in mind that Behavioral Baseline can and does change with and/or due to (change in) age, occupation, experience, influence, training, conditioning and learning.

Related Articles:
1) Hand Gestures 2) Facial Expressions 3) Postures 4) Para Language 5) Micro Expressions 6) Context 7) Proxemics 8) Congruence 9) Clusters 10) Challenges 11) Interpretation 12) Asymmetrical Smile but not Contempt 13) Face of liar(?) 14) Inside Interrogation Room 15) Truth about Lying

January 01, 2022

Is Human Communication 93% Nonverbal?

Myths are scientifically incorrect and false stories, beliefs and ideas but they sound amazing and amusing. Moreover, myths are used for massive marketing too, just by adding their credible origins while making confident claims. Especially the one which has been gracefully given birth to in 1967 has taken the whole world by storm and quite essentially the small community of body language enthusiasts, aspirants, analysts, experts, speakers, instructors, coaches and trainers. It is The Convenient Myth of 93% share of nonverbal clues in human communication. Unfortunately, it's widely cited by academic institutions too.

Mehrabian 7-38-55 Rule

Prof. Dr. Albert Mehrabian conducted two separate studies at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) with only 37 female psychology students about Which clues are emphasized, prioritized or given weightage to while understanding EMOTIONS, FEELINGS and ATTITUDES of a speaking individual by the audience. Based upon the answers given by the participants, only 7% emphasize was given to words while 93% emphasize was given to body language, facial expressions and the different tones of voice of the speaking individual.

According to the conclusions derived from Prof. Dr. Mehrabian's study, an emotionally charged interpersonal message is or can be identified almost nonverbally i. e. 93% out of both verbal and nonverbal clues. As the study suggested, an emotionally charged message conveyed by an individual can largely and precisely be identified by the individual's para-language and body language including facial expressions. These two components roughly made up to 38% and 55% of the message respectively in the 7-38-55 rule.

Prof. Dr. Albert Mehrabian
It's critically important to keep in mind that Prof. Meharbian's study was only related with emphasizing clues while understanding EMOTIONS, FEELINGS and ATTITUDES of a speaking individual. Nevertheless, the rule is wrongly interpreted, widely referred and conveniently cited by many.

As the three numbers of the rule are easy to remember and recite, many people started boldly claiming the total percentage of nonverbal clues in any kind of human communication as 93%. Importance of words was greatly undervalued.

Prof. Dr. Mehrabian himself has humbly clarified at many times that his famous rule is overly generalized. It has never ever been his conclusion that any human communication in general follows the 7-38-55 rule or has 93% share of nonverbal clues. He only believes that it was applicable within the context of interpreting the affect or emotional state of a speaking individual by the audience. However, nonverbal share is entirely relative in human communication and I'm going to prove the same.

Although Mehrabian Rule was simply the rough estimation, we get totally different shares of nonverbal clues in different situations, circumstances and conditions if we strictly adhere with the numbers from the same rule. If audience can see only the face but not the body of the speaker then the share of nonverbal clues would be less than 55% due to detectable facial expressions. If only voice of the speaker can be heard then the share of nonverbal clues would be roughly 38% due to detectable para-lingual clues.


If it was only about communicating emotions, feelings, sentiments, attitudes and different psychological states then we wouldn't have transformed ourselves into the present form at all. Unlike other creatures, we're a highly technological, knowledge sharing and imitating species. Our journey began in small tribal groups and ultimately ended up in spreading or dominating globally with further plans to colonize the outer space. Amount of verbal usage by us has gradually increased in our daily lives with increment in complexity, distance and interdependence.

Human communication significantly and frequently includes facts, locations, directions, dates, time stamps, geographical coordinates, measuring units, measurements, quantities, equations, findings, formulae, logical arguments, assumptions, algorithms, frameworks, concepts, hypotheses, theories, (abstract) ideas, routes, processes, stages, workflows, results, conclusions, plans, alerts, precautions, suggestions, strategies, instructions, commands, warnings, definitions, rules, regulations, requirements, (legal) contracts, (legal) agreements, treaties, testimonies, pacts, policies, norms etc.

They can be published, presented, explained, displayed or described with the help of words, numbers and characters. Graphical characteristics of printed or written text such as position, decoration, highlighting, fonts, font sizes and colors do arrange, organize, distinguish, emphasize and draw attention at some details. Therefore, graphical characteristics of written or printed text used are entirely nonverbal in nature. However, its calculable share is much less in comparison to the entire text.

Also, verbal and numerical data, information and facts can also be converted or compressed into and represented by many visual forms for better and readily understanding. Therefore, using sign-languages, sketches, paintings, drawings, photographs, graphs, charts, animations, images, signs, symbols, icons, 2D models, 3D models etc. in the human communication is entirely nonverbal in nature with its calculable share depending upon the amount of usage.

Additionally, if an individual is involved in talking about them then para-lingual clues and illustrating hand gestures do help a lot for emphasizing, drawing attention and visually explaining some details. Undoubtedly, vocal emphasizes and hand illustrations are also nonverbal in nature. However, its calculable share is much less in comparison to the content.

Some of the common traffic signs

The true purpose of this article isn't only to share critically important details and facts about Prof. Dr. Mehrabian's study and to debunk or bust The Convenient Myth of 93% or the over generalized 7-38-55 rule/equation/formula originated from the same study. My explanation and arguments simply don't end here because there's much more in our real lives.

After critically thinking over this seriously scientific topic over many days, I'm deeply interested and highly motivated to share my honest, sincere and meticulous insights and views about the percentage of nonverbal share in (face to face) human communication, considering different kinds of possible situations and circumstances in daily life.

Try to consider yourself in four different situations in which you’re interacting or you need to interact with four different kinds of individuals i. e. an infant, a man fatally injured after meeting an accident in front of you, an old man communicating only through a sign-language and a foreign lady tourist speaking in her language.


Surprisingly, the true nonverbal share or its percentage during (face to face) encounter, interaction, exchange and reciprocation taking place between you and the four different individuals would be much greater and most likely to be 100%, from either or both sides.

Please let me explain exactly how, with details as following:

1) The Infant: Due to absence or lack of verbal articulating ability at its age, the infant's body language, facial expressions and different tones of voice would convey what exactly it is trying to convey or 'say' to you in your presence.

2) The Injured Man: Due to fatal injuries, the man might not be able to speak clearly, continuously and loudly or at all. His vocal clues (if any), eyes, face, collapsed posture and visible wounds would convey his grim condition.

3) The Sign-Speaker: Due to absence of spoken words, you must rely only on your own knowledge about the specific sign-language. Otherwise, you’d need to communicate with him only by using commonly known hand gestures, facial expressions, head movements and para-lingual clues only.

4) The Tourist: As you're unfamiliar with her language, you both need to communicate with each other only by using commonly known hand gestures, facial expressions, head movements and para-lingual clues only. Otherwise, you need to find a translator.

In all above situations, only nonverbal, physical, visible, vocal and observable clues would play the greatest role in understanding, interacting, exchanging, sharing, suggesting and reciprocating. When and/or If an individual isn't (capable of) talking (in a known language) then his/her body does (try to) communicate the same. In short, body definitely speaks when, what and/or if words can't or don't.

To my best knowledge, both spoken and written words help a lot but only if the two interacting individuals know the language and also the meanings of the words very well in the first place. If either one doesn’t know the language and/or doesn't understand the meaning of the words then irritation, confusion and perplexity is clearly seen in body language esp. eyes, eyebrows, mouth and hands.

When and/or if words aren't present, familiar, complete, appropriate, audible, readable and/or sufficient while communicating then (entire) body, orientations, movements, gestures, expressions, adaptations, stances, vocal tones, actions, reactions and responses of either or both individuals are the only reliable sources for the firm conclusion because nonverbal is the default mode of human communication.

On the other hand, if familiar, complete, appropriate, audible, readable and/or sufficient words are being used during (face to face) communication, interaction, encounter, exchange and reciprocation then congruence between the cluster of words and corresponding nonverbal clues (available if any) is the determining factors for reliability and truthfulness in the given context. Prof. Dr. Mehrabian’s study too emphasized congruence.

The bottom line of this myth debunking or myth busting article is that nonverbal share in any human communication isn't always or absolutely 93% (or any fixed number) at all but entirely relative. The nonverbal share or its percentage can and does conditionally change and even reach up to 100%.

Next time if anybody publicly writes and speaks about 93% of nonverbal share then you could confidently explain the nonverbal relativity of human communication with a few best supporting examples, including some of the aforementioned ones.

[Critical Note: Although every human communication isn't always and/or entirely nonverbal, our bodies, physical conditions, movements and actions do keep revealing a lot about ourselves automatically, unmistakably and reliably throughout our lives, which is just beyond our imagination.

Even when we're not actively communicating (with anybody), our bodies continuously do keep receiving and sending different kinds of nonverbal data, clues, hints, signals and messages.]

Related Articles:
1) Context 2) Congruence 3) Clusters 4) What is Nonverbal Communication? 5) Evolution of Nonverbal communication 6) "Nonverbal" is alien way of communication? 7) Unlimited potentials of Nonverbal Knowledge 8) Can body language reveal thoughts? 9) Why exactly languages evolved?