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Fundamentals of communication,

Body Language: darwins contribution, intrigue of body language

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This chapter, dealing exclusively with the theme of body language, i.e. the use of 'non-verbal communication'
among humans, will help the readers draw their own conclusions on the practical aspects of a theme
which during the last few decades saw a proliferation of popular articles in the communication media
but has not created but limited serious academic efforts.

Darwin's contribution

Some might consider it a 'long shot' but the author is among those who believe that Charles Darwin
(1872) with his book 'The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals' brought to the forefront of
the nineteenth and twentieth centuries academic and popular discussions the concept of 'body language'.
Furthermore, Darwin appears to have helped the re-surfacing of a subject touched upon, but left without
deep elaboration, by ancient Greek and Roman philosophers and other writers.

Proponents of the ancient ability of all mammals to communicate using 'body language', taking as a point
of reference at first Darwin's work and later some brief references in published works in the emerging
fields of modern psychology, psychiatry and psychoanalysis helped to start an ongoing debate on this
subject. The discussions on body language as a means of non-verbal human communication, however,
did not produce but limited academic dialogue during the early decades of the 20th century and, indeed,
not very impressive.

The proponents of body language have consistently argued that beyond the attention paid to our verbal
communication, where we learn to encode and decode meanings in words we use in our daily interaction
with other human beings, we should also pay, at least some if not particular attention, to the non-verbal
aspects of communication, which are present in some of the elements of body language used by humans.
Bearing the title 'body language' Julius Fast's book originally published in 1971 has since been published
in many countries around the globe, not only where the dominant language is English, but translated
in the national language of non-English speaking countries as well. Julius Fast's book became widely
discussed in the second half of the 20th century as he managed to rekindle the theme of body language
as a form of non-verbal communication and has since been followed by, literally, several thousand other
books and articles on the subject by a host of other writers. Objective criticism, however, has since been
centred on the fact that, at the end, such books 'promise more than they can deliver' and border on the
edge separating 'scientific myth' from 'scientifically validated facts'. Lack of carefully controlled, properly
executed and adequately substantiated academic research has given to the theme of 'body language' a
pseudo-scientific quality and not proper academic recognition and status.

The 'intrigue' of body language

Some quasi-scientific publications and a plethora of popular articles on the subject come to prove that
people in America, Europe and other parts of the world continue to be intrigued by the promises the
capacity to understand and interpret 'body language' makes. Students, laymen, businessmen, artists,
politicians, public speakers and some management personnel are fascinated by the promises made to
those who will be able to understand body language thus further accentuating the gap between the
necessary rigor science demands and the unproven 'promises' of what appears, for the most part at this
time, to be 'science fiction'.

People, are certainly magnetized by the promise that if they can learn to understand what is involved
in body language then they can be able to decipher, to decode and understand, the messages a sender
delivers to them unintentionally through the subconsciously dictated use of bodily motions, that is nonverbal
communication symbols conveyed by body language. The attraction is intensified by the hope
that understanding body language one could understand the non-verbal messages that relatives, friends,
business associates and colleagues send which may carry very different meanings than the verbal or
printed messages these persons emit.

Keeping matters at 'arm's length'

The author of this book belongs to that group of social and behavioural scientists and communication –
P.R. practitioners and specialists who adhere to the position that we do not fully discard as totally useless
the idea that, as mammals, we humans do transmit and receive non-verbal messages. The underlying
basis of this position is that if properly trained we can be able to decipher received body language
messages, but we continue to hold the utilitarian value of learning to decode and understand such
messages 'at arms-length' so long as both the validity and the reliability of this theory have not been
properly established and tested.

In the paragraphs that follow, for the sake of covering as broadly as possible the general framework of
communication, some data which regard body language will be presented keeping in mind the framework
of reservations mentioned above. It is hoped that you the readers will activate and invoke your critical
faculties in trying to understand the more general context of non-verbal communication and keep intact
your ability to differentiate fact from fiction, myth from reality.

According to the proponents and students of body language, each one of us has a given way in which
we tend to cross our hands on our chests while we are standing indicating feelings of insecurity and the
need to remain protected from by staying 'closed' to the external world. Furthermore, we all have adapted
specific ways in which we cross one leg over the other leg while seated. Our adapted manner of hands
or legs crossing seems to be an outward expression of our subjective emotional states (i.e. insecurity
or refusal to 'open-up' to the people around us) and of emotions that may arise in us at a given time
towards certain persons or realities we are faced and are dealing with.

If I were to ask you to proceed and cross your legs now, while you are reading this paragraph, you will
most certainly do it in the usual, habitually established and dominant way you have been doing it all
along while seated at your desk having in front of you a computer, laptop or other device you are using
to access this book (i.e. left leg over right leg, or vice versa). Now, at this specific moment, I will kindly
ask you to change the way you have already crossed your legs and thus reverse the way you are habitually
accustomed to doing it and is familiar to you. You should not be surprised if, with the exception of
those who, as a dominant pattern can interchange the order of left leg-over right and right leg over-left
without feeling uncomfortable, the rest of you will soon enough start to feel somewhat awkward and
uncomfortable by going against your habitually adapted leg-crossing style and manner.

The movement of our arms and hands, the grimaces we make with our faces as well as more general body
postures, may end up in the span of the hours of a day we are awake and interacting with others by us telling
as many as 200 lies to the persons we are transacting with. In simple arithmetic, taking into account that
these persons reciprocate with their subconsciously dictated behaviour toward us, this means that in the
course of a day's interaction we receive or 'tell' to the person(s) we are dealing with one lie every 5 minutes.

Paul Ekman (1999, 2003) is perhaps the most easily recognizable American psychologist whose life-time
research concentrated in the study of expressions of the human face (micro-expressions) which reveal
internal emotional states. Ekman, in certain ways, has furthered some aspects of the classic pioneer published
work of Charles Darwin. From the early 1970s and up to the present time, Ekman labouring in his research
lab at the University of California San Francisco, has identified 46 muscle movements of the face claiming
that they reveal inner emotional states. An interesting finding (for whatever it may be worth) of this research,
as reported by Ekman, is that the best performance in identifying persons who are lying (with a success rate
of nearly 73%) has been shown by agents of the CIA, officials of Federal Law Enforcement Bodies, some
sheriffs of the County of Los Angeles State of California and some clinical psychologists.

The role 'culture' plays

Darwin, in his classic writings, supported the view that the language of the body is common to all people
regardless of their ethnic, social and cultural differences. It is a universal given, save exceptions due to
specific reasons, that children 'touch' each other, hug each other and hug older persons just because
children do not have the inhibitions in touching that adults do. Such inhibitions are easily observable
among more mature, at least as far as age is concerned, individuals, who, in the process of growing up,
have ended up being more 'uptight' and obviously follow the unwritten dictates to keep our hands away
from other persons. In other words, unlike children, who are open to hugging and embracing because
they are not afraid to do so, we avoid such behaviour because 'body contact and hugging' may frighten
us or the person(s) we attempt to hug.

Many researchers have opposed the initial position of Darwin with sociologists, social anthropologists,
psychologists and communication specialists stating, contrary to Darwinian views, that cultural and
social factors give a variety of meanings to specific arms or body movements. In this context, it should be
noted that specific examples of body language, hands and arms or torso movements, may have acquired
different meanings as they were shaped by the influence of socio cultural factors. A simple example of
this process may be found in the familiar clasping of our hands in applause and approval as is usual in
most western cultures, while hand clasping in other cultures may express pain, suffering and perhaps
even wailing.

It was mentioned above that according to proponents of body language communication, we may be
sending or receiving a 'lie' almost every five minutes in the hours we are awake and interacting with
other persons. In respect to this claim, with even a quick glance in the plethora of popular books and
articles that deal with body language, a reader can locate that there are 4 significant ways in determining
that a person is lying, namely:

Repeated movement of only one shoulder (irrespective of left or right) signifies that the person, if not
outright lying, is definitely not telling the truth.

Repeated motions indicating 'nervousness' such as nose scratching, fingers playing with the hair, knocking
of the floor with a foot while seated tend to increase when the person is under stress and may indicate
attempts to conceal facial expressions that would reveal true feelings.

Hand movements that seem to emphasize the verbal statements, the speech a person is making, relate
directly to the internal emotional state of the speaker as 'sender' of a message. Controlled and limited
moves may indicate that the person is conveying false emotions while a multitude and intensity of such
moves may serve the purpose of diverting the 'receiver's' focus of attention from the persons' face where
it could be revealed that they are lying.

In this respect Ekman and other researchers have suggested that micro-movements of facial muscles
with time duration of 1/4 of a second which are immediately succeeded by a smile, although extremely
difficult to be detected by an untrained eye, constitute clear statements to the effect that the persons are
hiding some truth, or lying or trying to hide their real emotions.

Focusing on the human face

Erwin Goffman (1969) coined and introduced the interesting concept of 'public smiles'. In all human
cultures, in what appears to exist at a universal level, the human smile expresses a good sense of humour.
It is also commonly accepted that our smile often involves elements of apology, especially in cases where
some act or some verbal statement on our part could be interpreted as an attack or insult to the receiver. In
such cases we smile and, obviously, we do politely apologize without uttering any relevant words. Finally,
as most of us know from experience, there are instances in everyday life where we smile despite being
angry, we smile despite feeling bitter, and we even proceed to swallow our disappointments with a smile.

Studying mainly the behaviour of American subjects, Goffman has also found that while walking in
a public street we usually exchange glances with those coming from the opposite direction until we
get closer to a distance of about two meters and then something interesting takes place. At that point,
according to Goffman, we cease looking straight into the eyes of the on-comer and there seems to be
an instantaneous 'implicit agreement' that specifies who would pass on the right and who on the left as
our paths, finally, cross.

In body language our mouth and lips, eyebrows and eyes each alone, or operating in combined fashion,
dramatize their own role in the process of our communication with others. Thus, pulling the lip or focusing
on one area of the mouth carries specific meanings and so do specific movements of the eyebrows along
with contractions of our forehead. Furthermore, although our eyeballs are only organs which carry light
from visual stimuli through the optic nerve to the brain, in body language our eyes, with the help of
the general area of the face around them, seem to be significant transmitters of specific and meaningful
messages to others we are interacting with. This materializes and is conveyed through the intensity and
persistence with which we look at the person or persons standing or sitting opposite to us.

It is already fairly well established, as a result of relevant psychological research, that when we see
something delightful the pupils of our eyes dilate, apparently with the aim to collect as much as possible
of the intensely pleasant stimulus, whereas when we see something unpleasant, the pupils of our eyes
constrict minimizing the inflow of the unwanted stimulus. Indeed, it is a given in world literature that
the human eyes are often presented as 'the mirror of the soul' and it is accepted that a specific look may
reflect the feelings you are trying to convey to the person you are interacting with and vice versa. Our eyes
can show that we stay aloof and cold to persons and situations, our glance may be shrilling or ironic, or
it may reveal that we are full of understanding for what the person communicating with us is conveying.

You may already have encountered, or will encounter in literature, references to eyes that are sunk in
melancholy or others full of laughter and beaming, or eyes reflecting the fact that they are full of light.

For the noted Spanish writer Jose Ortega Y Gasset (1957) the human eyes, in conjunction with eyelids
and eyebrows, constitute a theatrical stage where dramas and comedies can be carried out. It would be
worthwhile for you, the readers of this book, to take a moment to reflect and remember what happens
when our eyes are crossing other eyes in enclosed spaces ranging from lecture halls to buses, trains, coffeeshops,
restaurants and so on. When asked by a researcher conducting relevant research, most persons
would confess that when their eyes cross the eyes of another person they feel a bit of embarrassment
and they avoid direct eye contact by raising their eyes to read the advertisements on the walls, lowering
their eyes to read the textbook or the newspaper they hold or, if sitting in a café or restaurant, focusing
their eyes in reading their menu again and again. In close encounters and such cases of eye-contact,
what seems to follow, naturally, is a brief cross glance with the other persons and a hurried return to
previous activities. Most people consciously will avoid being 'pinned' in the eyes of persons standing or
sitting across them in enclosed spaces.

Certainly a look, a glance of its own, although it may carry a message, it cannot reveal and betray to
others everything that we may be harbouring in our minds. Research findings indicate that a look,
descriptive and full of meaning as it may be, resembles more of a word in a sentence rather than a full
phrase or sentence. We need, no doubt, many more details beyond a glance to guess what happens in
the mind of persons sitting or standing opposite us.

The way we decide to look at persons or objects which are in the environment around us, has always
contained in specific instances prohibitive elements of a didactic nature. From Biblical references we learn
that Lot's wife turned into a pillar of salt when she turned, pushed by curiosity and despite the contrary
advice of God, to see what was happening to the cities and the residents of Sodom and Gomorrah out
of which, by God's advice, they were hurriedly running away. Adam, we are told, avoids the gaze, the
eyes of his God and creator, because he feels guilty having already committed the sin of consuming the
forbidden fruit of knowledge. In Greek mythology, Orpheus lived his personal drama and lost his beloved
Eurydice when he decided to look at her against the advice not to permit his eager, curious eyes to see her.

Ardrey's 'territorial imperative'

There are some common scenes of daily life, as Robert Ardrey (1966) has noted, where our personal
body movements and those of fellow men do carry some very specific messages. Stop and ponder for
a short while the habit of some relatives, friends or colleagues of yours who, almost as a rule, when
sitting together with you at a home, coffee shop or restaurant table will place and spread their personal
belongings on the table (so as to claim their 'sovereignty' in space) leaving you wondering where should
you place your personal stuff.

It is fairly safe for me as the author to assume that some of you, readers of this book, will recognize in the
above example themselves either as recipients of such behaviour by others or as the actors-protagonists
in similar situations. You should now have gotten a better understanding of how this practice expands or
limits the space of sovereignty on a coffee or dinner table depending on who is dramatizing the role of
the protagonist and who is the 'victim'. What should stand out by such a simple example, as a corollary
to Ardrey's theory, is that each one of us 'claims' and maintains as personal a part of the space and the
surroundings environment we are operating in. Generally it is said that 'personal space' is differentiated
into two major categories, namely the space characterized as 'near' and the area characterized as 'remote.'

Territorial imperative and body language researchers use an operational definition of the 'close or near
space' as a distance of approx 45 to 75 cm, that is a distance where if we extended a hand forward it
would be possible to make a handshake with persons standing or touch persons sitting opposite to us.
In contrast, the 'remote or distant space', involves a measurable distance ranging between 75 cm and
120 cm. Related to distance and body language is also the case where we stoop to show our respect and
allegiance to a person or our reverence to a holy church icon.

During the last few decades it appears to have become a practice in many private and public enterprises
and organizations to avoid using square or oval work tables at conference rooms as management shows
preference for the round shaped conference tables. There are, however, also exceptions in the cases where
executives and managers wish, on a consciously or even subconsciously motivated level, to reassert their
authority and remind their subordinates who is in charge. In such cases the managers choose to sit at
what is 'the head of the table' while holding a working meeting or conference with their subordinates.
One could consider as the most famous and relevant example to the round shape of conference room
tables the classic, British fairy tale of King Arthur and his knights with the characteristic reference to
the 'round table' revealing a truly democratic King. However, even in this tale, a lot could be learned by
a closer observation of the position of each and every knight's chair standing next to, or progressively
removed from, the left or right side of the King's throne thus differentiating the 'status' of each one of
them as awarded by the respected and beloved King Arthur.


  1. Communication is a universal phenomenon: system of 4 components
  2. Human Communication: scheme of human communication, defining
  3. Body Language: darwins contribution, intrigue of body language
  4. Mass Media & social media: stone inscription, printing process
  5. The Role of attitudes in human communication: defining attitudes
  6. The birth of a speciality: roots in antiquity, historic glimpse
  7. Publics, Public Opinion and its moulders: historical evolution, term
  8. Rhetoric, Persuasion and Propaganda: rome, love, definitions, variety
  9. Corporate Communication & Responsibility: corporate communication
  10. Press releases, special events and sponsorships: PR specialist
  11. Leaders and Leadership: pantheon of leaders, persons, injustice
  12. Leadership, Power, Authority & Charisma: events, political, financial
  13. Leadership research at the Universities of Iowa, Ohio & Michigan:
  14. Modern theories of leadership in Private and Public Enterprises and Or
  15. Instead of an epilogue: Women leaders remain under a glass ceiling:
  16. References: Bibliography
  17. The Author: Dr Georgios P. Piperopoulos, sociology, psychology