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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 16) Artificial Intelligence and Body Language