As the saying goes, “Actions speak louder than words.”
You’ve most probably heard that phrase before. Have you given it any thought, though? Humans are unique in that most of the time, when we communicate, we do so through body language. Different forms of feelings and meanings can be expressed through body language so it is worth knowing psychological facts about body language.
It’s is a non-verbal means of communication. In this language, physical actions are used in place of words to transmit both words and feelings. We can accomplish this using various techniques, such as body positioning, eye contact and movement, facial expressions, physical touch, spacial use, and more.
But why do humans behave in this manner? How well do our physical movements reflect the thoughts we are having? There are many great facts about language and the differences each one holds. However, what secrets lie behind nonverbal language?
Let’s delve more deeply into the psychology of body language with these interesting facts about nonverbal communication.
1. Nonverbal Expressions and Behaviors Are the Only Universal Languages
Facial expressions and hand gestures can communicate with someone even if they don’t speak the same language as you. And, most of the time, these gestures are cultural.
For example, eye contact is considered a respectful gesture in the United States. When you speak to someone, keeping eye contact with them shows you are listening to them and invested in what they are saying.
However, in some Asian and Middle Eastern countries, eye contact must be avoided because it might show romantic interest, which is often inappropriate. Many Middle Eastern countries expect firm eye contact between people of the same sex, especially in business settings.
However, eye contact between a male and female should be avoided, and they should somewhat lower their gaze.
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Hand signals also can mean different things in different cultures. An American in the country of India might lift up their thumb when asked to do a thumbs-up. However, they’ll be confused to discover that showing the middle finger is a thumbs-up gesture in India.
Showing the middle finger in America is offensive, so learning about these gestures is essential before visiting another country. Nobody in India is trying to offend you; they’re showing you a positive sign.
2. Women Have Wider Peripheral Visions
This allows them to check a man’s body from head to toe without being obvious. In comparison, men have poorer peripheral vision and would need to gaze up and down a woman’s body more clearly if they want to check them out. So men don’t ogle more than women; they just don’t have the tunnel vision to do it without getting caught.
3. Neanderthals Had It Figured Out
Neanderthals figured out body language over 40,000 years ago. It is thought that they knew how to speak based on their neck structures, but there’s no way to know for sure. Verbal language could have existed back then, but it is believed body language was used much more by Neanderthals. This means they would have been the first hominid species to have figured out body language.
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4. Reading Body Language Is Related to Intelligence
Reading body language is related to your emotional and social intelligence level. The more self-aware you are, the more likely you are to be able to read other people well too.
There are many different kinds of intelligence. One person might be able to solve a Rubik’s cube in a matter of seconds, but they might not understand when someone looks angry that they are angry. This doesn’t apply to everyone, but it is thought that the higher your logical intelligence is, the less emotional intelligence you have. It’s like it balances itself out.
If you’re someone who can read people very well, don’t get frustrated with people who can’t do it as well. They’re not doing it on purpose usually. A good tip is to be a direct communicator, whether you can read people or not.
5. People Blink Faster Under Emotional Stress
People blink about six to eight times a minute when relaxed. That is the average rate. The eyes also close for about 1/10th of a second. When someone is under pressure, such as when they’re lying, their blinking is likely to increase rapidly.
It could also mean someone is attracted to you, so you have to keep an eye on any other signs to show the difference. Cats, on the other hand, actually blink very slowly at humans as a way to show affection.
6. The Body and Brain Are in Sync
Your body is always in sync with your brain, whether you’re listening, talking, reacting to someone, or even existing. Because of that, how we unconsciously move our bodies might show how we feel on a psychological level.
How we stand, sit, walk, etc. can display what’s going on in our minds. It’s completely unconscious, whereas hand gestures and intentional eye movements are not.
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Someone crossing their arms during a conversation can indicate a sign of defensiveness or self-protection. People who are afraid or unmotivated during a conversation could slump their shoulders. If someone is constantly shaking their leg or twirling their hair, it could mean they are impatient or nervous. And if they lean forward while talking to you, they are invested in the conversation.
It can be beneficial because your friend might notice and help you out when you’re in a stressful situation. However, it does let the world in on your deepest feelings.
7. You Can Control Your Body Language
Body language is mostly unconscious. However, we also have control over certain aspects. Being aware of how we are walking, sitting, standing, etc., can create a specific message. Standing tall makes us look more confident, and walking fast means we are trying to get somewhere quickly and should not be stopped or disturbed.
If you walk into a job interview, you will consciously carry yourself differently than walking into a friend’s house. You need to create the impression that you are confident in your abilities and that you deserve this job, and your body language can give the best (or worst) first impression.
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8. Body Language Experts Aren’t Always Right
There is a lot of research into the meaning of nonverbal communication. You might have seen body language experts on YouTube trying to decode someone’s body language. And there might be some truth to what they say. However, for the most part, they are wrong.
People have different intentions with their body language, and it’s not always the same. An expert may decode someone looking at their watch a lot while talking to someone else as they don’t like the person and want the conversation to end.
The person could honestly just be time conscious or making sure they’re not running late for an appointment. Body language is ambiguous; the best way to read someone is to get to know and listen to them.
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9. Humans Imitate Each Other
We, as humans, tend to mirror the actions of other people around us. It is human nature to try and fit into the larger group and not stand out. We also feed off each other’s energies. So if you’re at a concert where everyone is hyped up and excited, you’re going to look very strange if you’re sitting down and being quiet. And you don’t want to look too happy at a funeral, or people might think you’re disrespectful.
A great example is if you’ve ever woken up in a great mood to get to the kitchen and your partner is in a terrible mood, yelling at the eggs for not cooking fast enough. The vibe is instantly uncomfortable, and your good mood fades into the background.
Or you’re at a party where you don’t know anyone, so you look around to see what everyone is doing. Your uncomfortable mood might change instantly when you see a group of people having fun on the dance floor, and you might feel compelled to join them.
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This is a simple adaptation. We imitate each other to fit in and make connections with other people. Nobody wants to be the one who makes the vibe uncomfortable or weird, so we look at what other people are doing and unconsciously imitate them to fit in.
10. Micro Expressions Are Important in Criminal Investigations
Micro expressions are facial expressions that last only a fraction of a second. They are usually a sign that you’re concealing or repressing an emotion. Regular expressions last from ½ a second to four seconds, while micro expressions last from 1/25 to 1/5 of a second.
Criminal investigators and the police must be trained in reading micro expressions because they might catch someone trying to hide something much easier.
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A super interesting study on this can be found in the book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell. He cites many fascinating studies, such as one where couples were talking about random things like their dog or current events — anything that won’t evoke an adverse reaction.
Then while they were talking, their micro-expressions were being monitored, and using this, they could determine which couples would break up and which ones wouldn’t. The accuracy rate for this study was about 80%.
11. The Duchenne Smile Is the Only True Smile
The smile may actually be the most deceptive of all facial expressions. It has been determined that there are around 18 different smiles. However, only one of those shows true happiness — the Duchenne smile. Think about how often you’ve used a smile to conceal your sadness or as a sarcastic gesture. We do that a lot more than we know.
The Duchenne smile is when you smile with your eyes. A smile so large it makes the sides of your eyes crinkle. It was named after Guillaume Duchenne, a 19th-century scientist whose significant contributions to studying the human body helped us map the muscular system, including the ones in the face that create the Duchenne smile.
Many researchers, including Charles Darwin, have remarked that the inclusion of the eye crinkling makes a smile truly genuine.
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12. Criminals Love Body Language
Criminal investigators might use body language to catch criminals. But criminals also love to read body language and are pretty good at it. It might be their favorite language. Body language can show them the difference between someone who can be victimized and someone who most likely will fight back and win.
They look for people whose body language makes them out to be vulnerable. This can include being physically frail and weak, lacking confidence when speaking, and being disconnected from the world around them. Your body language when walking in public can actually save your life.
So when you’re in a public area, it is crucial to come across as confident. Stand tall with your chest out to show dominance and strength. Keep your posture straight and walk with a purpose. Also, make sure to pay attention to your environment. If you’re listening to music, only keep one earbud in. Criminals might see you as a potential victim if both earbuds are in because you’re unaware of your surroundings.
13. The Crotch Display Is Used for Dominance
There is a predominantly male gesture called the “Crotch Display.” This is where they plant both feet firmly on the ground with their legs apart. It is a signal of dominance used unconsciously by men because it puts their masculinity on show and highlights the genitals.
It is mainly used in a situation where there are other men, and they might feel threatened, for example, on a night out with their girlfriend where there are a lot of strange men.
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14. Learning How to Read Body Language Is Important
Learning how to interpret body language correctly is a valuable skill to have. Recognizing aggressive body language is crucial for some people, such as teachers, security guards, and parents. Not everyone can verbally express anger, and someone might be too angry to speak.
Learning the signs that someone is angry, ready to fight, or hitting a breaking point can help you intervene early or escape the situation before something happens.
15. Women Laugh at Your Jokes If They Like You
Studies have shown that women will laugh at the jokes men make if they’re attracted to them, and men are attracted to women who laugh at their lame jokes. So if a man says a woman has a good sense of humor, they’re not necessarily saying she makes a lot of jokes. It usually means she laughs at his jokes.
16. Handshakes Are Important
The strength of a handshake can have different meanings. You usually expect a firm handshake when you shake someone’s hand. A weak handshake can be a sign of disrespect or unreliability.
17. Charles Darwin Studied Body Language
One of the earliest landmarks in the scientific study of nonverbal communication and body language is Charles Darwin’s The Expression of the Emotions of Man and Animals (1872).
This study was the first to claim that humans and apes express similar facial expressions inherited from a common ancestor. British zoologist Desmond Morris also argued in 1969 that we owed our nonverbal communication to our animal nature.
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18. Relationships Determine How Close You Stand to Someone
The closer you stand to someone else, the stronger your informal connections are. Pay attention to the physical proximity between you and your boss, colleague, and friends. We are more comfortable standing closer to our friends than our boss.
19. The Modern Flight Response Is Not Just Running Away
You might have heard of the fight or flight response. This is an instinctual response to a threat. However, the flight response has adapted to meet our modern needs.
More subtle subconscious evasive actions include rubbing our eyes, closing our eyes, placing something on our lap (like a purse), leaning away from someone, and even turning our feet toward the exit. All of this is part of the flight response.
20. We Use Pacifying Behaviors to Soothe Ourselves
As humans, we have also developed several pacifying behaviors to calm us down. These interesting human behaviors release endorphins to soothe our brains. Some of the actions include playing with our hair or massaging our necks. Some people even pacify by rubbing their lips or cheeks with their tongues.
21. Touch Is a Form of Body Language
When we’re sad and talk to our friends about it, they will usually give us a small stroke or pat on the back or shoulder. This behavior indicates empathy, warmth, and care. Touching someone is typically a way of calming them down or showing that you’re there for them and understand what they’re feeling.
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22. Men Touch Their Faces When Uncomfortable
Men typically prefer to touch their faces when feeling discomfort. Women will touch their necks, jewelry, clothing, hair, or arms.
23. People Use Ventilation Action to Ease Stress
Ventilation action is something that people under stress or duress use to relieve emotional discomfort. A man will put his fingers between his neck and shirt collar to pull the fabric away from their skin as they feel trapped. Women are more subtle and may toss their hair away from their necks to ventilate the area.
24. Legs Say a Lot About People
When people talk to each other, they usually stand toe to toe. If one person turns their feet away slightly or repeatedly moves one foot in and out, this could indicate disagreement or that they want to leave the conversation. People say the eyes are the windows to the soul, but the legs and feet are an archway to the soul. They are most likely to show a person’s true intentions.
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25. Posture Is Important in Prison
Posture is critical to how you’re portrayed to others. A few prison inmates have noted that it’s all about posture and how you look, stand, and behave. You can’t be caught looking weak in prison or you become a target.
26. Your Feet Show If You’re Hiding Something
Let’s go back to the feet being the archway to the soul. Customs officers have noted that passengers who turn their feet toward the exit while making a declaration are more likely to hide something that should be declared. Their faces and words might be compliant, but their feet reveal something very different.
27. An Exposed Wrist Is a Form of Submission
An exposed wrist is an unconscious sign of submission. Women and even homosexual men tend to do this when they’re in a room with someone they want to attract. Pay attention to a woman who is smoking, as she will tend to hold her cigarette with her wrist turned out and exposed.
If a woman or man is talking to you, keep an eye on their arms. If they are smoking, take note if they are exposing their wrist to your or keeping their arm close to them. It could show if they are attracted to you or not. People who don’t smoke do this too. They tend to touch their neck as a subtle way of exposing their wrist. Or they could be sitting with their hands on their lap, wrists up.
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28. Your Pupils Dilate When You Like Something
Research has shown that your pupils will dilate when you like something or someone. When you don’t like something, they will constrict.
The technique of observing pupils has been used in market research and opinion polls to measure public attitudes to products or political candidates. The more favorable the attitude towards the candidate or the more someone likes a product, the more dilated their pupils are.
29. Thieves Can Be Caught Using Their Body Language
After surveillance of shoplifters, researchers have noted that thieves will try to hide their presence by moving slower or limiting their head exposure by lowering their heads and raising their shoulders. This is known as the turtle effect. Most people walk around a store with upright postures, and their arms are pretty active, whereas thieves will behave oppositely.
30. The Silent Movie Study Showed Women Read Body Language Better Than Most Men
When people were asked to decode a silent movie during a study, it was determined that 87% of women in the study could guess what was happening correctly, while only 42% of men could guess correctly.
Most of the men who guessed correctly were homosexual and men in highly emotional jobs such as nursing or teaching. They did nearly as well as women. This goes back to body language being linked to emotional intelligence. People who work in emotional environments tend to have more empathy and understanding of emotion and will do better in a study like this.
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31. People With Autism Can Read Body Language
Someone on the autism spectrum may not exhibit body language in a way we typically know and may not be consistent with what they are saying. They could be stone-faced while discussing how their dog died over the weekend. Additionally, they may be unable to read other people’s body language and thus tend to misinterpret certain situations.
However, recent studies have shown that children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can recognize body language when it comes to the actual human body. They do just as well as their neurotypical peers. It’s usually facial expressions and subtle hints that they struggle to recognize.
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A research team of the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Brisbane studied 67 children with ASD. They compared them to 72 typically developing children between seven and twelve to determine how well they read body language. Both groups scored highly on body-emotion measures.
This shows that children with ASD can identify emotions from body language. However, when they had to identify emotion from the eyes alone, children with ASD did not do as well as their typically developing peers. Neurotypical children found it harder to recognize emotions from eyes alone than the whole body, but the difference in children with ASD was greater.
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