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TABLE OF CONTENTS
Head
1. Head body language...................2
2. Face body language...................4
3. Cheek body language..................5
4. Chin body language...................6
5. Mouth body language..................6
6. Lips body language...................9
7. Teeth body language.................10
8. Tongue body language................11
9. Nose body language..................11
10. Eyes body language...............12
11. Eyebrow body language............17
12. Forehead body language..............17
13. Hair body language..................18
Arms
We often talk with our arms, windmilling as we
describe with arms and hands what we are
saying.
1. Arm body language..................19
2. Elbow body language................20
3. Hand body language.................21
4. Finger body language...............26
Torso
The torso, though often ignored, contains the
main mass of the body and can give important
signals.
1. Neck body language.................28
2. Shoulder body language.............28
3. Chest body language................29
4. Back body language.................30
5. Belly body language................30
6. Bottom body language...............31
7. Hips body language.................31
Legs
The legs often betray body language when the
person is trying to control their body (and
often forget the lower half). Particularly when
seated, if you can look down you may find
another story.
1. Leg body language..................32
2. Thigh body language................34
3. Knee body language.................35
4. Foot body language.................35
GENERAL..................................36
2
1.HEAD
1. Head body language
The head can send such a wide range of signals
that the face and other parts of the head are
covered in other pages. Here, we focus just on
movement of the head as affected by the neck
muscles.
Lowering
A lowered head covers the neck with the chin
and hence can be a defensive posture that can
occur as a result of any perceived threat (not
just physical threat).
Lowering the head also lowers the eyes and
hence can be a sign of submission, effectively
saying 'I dare not even look at you'. The eyes
are typically also lowered here. It can be
driven by affection ('you are so wonderful') or
fear ('you might hurt me if I look at you').
Lowering the head whilst maintaining eye
contact can also be a strong flirting signal,
typically by women. It says 'You are superior
and I just can't take my eyes off you'. It can
also be a sign of defiance or caution, for
example when showing respect to an enemy ('You
are strong and I do not trust you').
Sometimes, lowering the head is just a sign of
exhaustion. The head is rather heavy and a
tired person's head will sag.
Lowering the head can be a part of ducking as
the person reflexively pulls the head down to
avoid a real or imagined hazard. This makes the
body smaller and protects the neck.
A single short lowering of the head can be an
abbreviated nod. This is a common greeting,
perhaps as a small bow. It may also be a signal
of power ('I am so powerful people are paying
will notice even a small nod'). Again it may be
a deliberate concealment, sending covert
agreement to a colleague.
Raising
When the head is low, raising it may be a sign
of interest as the person moved to looking at
the point of interest. This is typically
accompanied by other expressions of interest
such as raised eyebrows.
From a level position, a quick flick upwards
can be a sign of query ('What do you mean?').
Raising the head and looking at the ceiling may
signal boredom. It may also indicate a visual
thinker who is looking at internal images.
Another alternative is where a person wants to
focus on the sound and is thus averting the
eyes in order to concentrate on the sound.
Tilting
Tilting the head sideways can be a sign of
interest, which may be in what is said or
happening. It can also be a flirting signal as
it says 'I am interested in you!'
Tilting can similarly indicate curiosity,
uncertainty or query, particularly if the head
is pushed forward, as if the person was trying
to look at the subject in a different way in
the hope of seeing something new. The greater
the tilt, the greater the uncertainty or the
greater the intent to send this signal.
A tilted head pulled back tends to indicate
suspicion, as the uncertainty of the tilt is
combined with a defensive pulling back.
The tilted head exposes the carotid artery on
the side of the neck and may be a sign of
submission and feelings of vulnerability.
If the head is propped up by the hand, it may
be tiredness or an expectation of continued
interest ('This is so interesting!').
Oscillating (nodding and shaking)
Nodding up and down signals agreement in most
cultures and may well be accompanied by smiling
and other signs of approval. A vigorous nodding
probably indicates strong agreement, whilst
slow nodding may indicate conditional agreement
(and so may be questioned if you want full
agreement).
Turning the head from side to side usually
indicates disagreement or disapproval and may
originate in infant refusal of food. Again,
speed of swinging indicates strength of
feeling. A head tilted down whilst swinging may
signal particular disapproval ('I don't even
want to look at you').
Alternately tilting the head at an angle to
each side can say 'I'm not sure', though in
Southern India it means 'Yes'.
Nodding or shaking the head whilst talking is
an encouragement for the other person to agree
(which works surprisingly often).
Nodding whilst the other person is talking
sends approval signals and encourages them to
keep talking. Shaking the head shows
disagreement and they may either stop and seek
your view or redouble their attempts to
persuade you.
A nod can be used when emphasizing a point. The
may range from a subtle encouragement to agree
to a rapid and aggressive tilt.
A short, sharp nod can symbolize a head-butt,
indicating the desire to strike the other
person (this may be in emphasis or for other
reasons).
3
Shaking the head when saying something positive
is a negative signal and may indicate the
person does not believe what they are saying.
Rotating
Rotation of the head in a circle is a
relatively rare gesture and may just be the
person exercising a stiff neck (if they should
be paying attention, this may thus indicate
boredom).
Turning the head away removes attention and
thus may say 'I do not want to communicate with
you'. This can be very insulting as it denies
the existence of the other person.
Turning the head slightly to the side points
the ear at the other person, perhaps better to
hear them. This is usually accompanied by
continued eye contact and the hand may be
cupped behind the ear.
A slight head turn also puts one eye in the
middle of your head as the other person sees
it. To make eye contact they thus have to focus
on one eye. This can be very disconcerting and
this 'one-eye' gaze may be used as an act of
dominance (It may also be used in the act of
'giving the evil eye').
A slight rotation on top of oscillation may
indicate incomplete agreement or disagreement,
for example where a nod has a slight additional
side-to-side movement, indicating primary or
external agreement but with a certain amount of
disagreement too (which may be significant if
they feel coerced into agreement).
Pointer
We tend to point at people and things in which
we are interested in some way. Pointing the
head and face at another person shows interest
in them.
In groups and meetings, you can often see power
people as others often look at them. Likewise,
the less significant people are not looked at
often.
We can also point with a twitch of the head in
any given direction. Pointing at a person in
this way without looking can be insulting and
can be subtle, for example where you do not
want the indicated person is being pointed at.
Touching
We can touch the head in many places. Touching
the face is a common sign of anxiety and people
tend to have preferred places they touch or
stroke when they are concerned. This is a
classic pattern that poker players look for in
other players as signs of having good or bad
hands.
Covering eyes, ears or mouth may say we do not
want to see, hear or say something.
We may touch the side of the nose or stroke the
chin when we are thinking, making decisions and
judging others.
Tapping the head can be self-punishment and
hence signal regret, for example tapping the
forehead with the heel of the hand ('I'm
stupid!'). Note that, depending on context,
this can also be a signal that somebody else is
considered stupid.
The head is heavy and when tired we may prop it
up, either under the chin or at the side.
Boredom makes us tired so propping the head may
indicate this. Propping up the head also
happens when a person is thinking or
evaluating.
In some cultures, the head is considered the
part of the body that is most spiritual.
Touching the head can be considered wrong in
such contexts.
signal possible
meanings
detailed explanation
head
noddin
g
agreement Head nodding can occur when
invited for a response, or
voluntarily while listening.
Nodding is confusingly and
rather daftly also referred to
as ‘head shaking up and down’.
Head nodding when talking face-
to-face one-to-one is easy to
see, but do you always detect
tiny head nods when addressing
or observing a group?
slow
head
noddin
g
attentive
listening
This can be a faked signal. As
with all body language signals
you must look for clusters of
signals rather than relying on
one alone. Look at the focus of
eyes to check the validity of
slow head nodding.
fast
head
noddin
g
hurry up,
impatienc
e
Vigorous head nodding signifies
that the listener feels the
speaker has made their point or
taken sufficient time. Fast head
nodding is rather like the
‘wind-up’ hand gesture given
off-camera or off-stage by a
producer to a performer,
indicating ‘time’s up - get
off’.
head
held
up
neutralit
y,
alertness
High head position signifies
attentive listening, usually
with an open or undecided mind,
or lack of bias.
head
held
high
superiori
ty,
fearlessn
ess,
arrogance
Especially if exhibited with
jutting chin.
head
tilted
to one
side
non-
threateni
ng,
submissiv
e,
thoughtfu
lness
A signal of interest, and/or
vulnerability, which in turn
suggests a level of trust. Head
tilting is thought by some to
relate to ’sizing up’ something,
since tilting the head changes
the perspective offered by the
eyes, and a different view is
seen of the other person or
subject. Exposing the neck is
also a sign of trust.
head
forwar
d,
uprigh
t
interest,
positive
reaction
Head forward in the direction of
a person or other subject
indicates interest. The rule
also applies to a forward
leaning upper body, commonly
sitting, but also standing,
where the movement can be a
distinct and significant
4
advancement into a closer
personal space zone of the other
person. Head forward and upright
is different to head tilted
downward.
head
tilted
downwa
rd
criticism
,
admonishm
ent
Head tilted downwards towards a
person is commonly a signal of
criticism or reprimand or
disapproval, usually from a
position of authority.
head
shakin
g
disagreem
ent
Sideways shaking of the head
generally indicates
disagreement, but can also
signal feelings of disbelief,
frustration or exasperation.
Obvious of course, but often
ignored or missed where the
movement is small, especially in
groups seemingly reacting in
silent acceptance.
pronou
nced
head
shakin
g
strong
disagreem
ent
The strength of movement of the
head usually relates to strength
of feeling, and often to the
force by which the head-shaker
seeks to send this message to
the receiver. This is an
immensely powerful signal and is
used intentionally by some
people to dominate others.
head
down
(in
respon
se to
a
speake
r or
propos
ition)
negative,
disintere
sted
Head down is generally a signal
of rejection (of someone’s ideas
etc), unless the head is down
for a purpose like reading
supporting notes, etc. Head down
when responding to criticism is
a signal of failure,
vulnerability (hence seeking
protection), or feeling ashamed.
head
down
(while
perfor
ming
an
activi
ty)
defeat,
tiredness
Lowering the head is a sign of
loss, defeat, shame, etc. Hence
the expressions such as ‘don’t
let your head drop’, and ‘don’t
let your head go down’,
especially in sports and
competitive activities. Head
down also tends to cause
shoulders and upper back to to
slump, increasing the signs of
weakness at that moment.
chin
up
pride,
defiance,
confidenc
e
Very similar to the ‘head held
high’ signal. Holding the chin
up naturally alters the angle of
the head backwards, exposing the
neck, which is a signal of
strength, resilience, pride,
resistance, etc. A pronounced
raised chin does other
interesting things to the body
too - it tends to lift the
sternum (breast-bone), which
draws in air, puffing out the
chest, and it widens the
shoulders. These combined
effects make the person stand
bigger. An exposed neck is also
a sign of confidence. ‘Chin up’
is for these reasons a long-
standing expression used to
encourage someone to be brave.
active
listen
ing
attention
,
interest,
attractio
n
When people are listening
actively and responsively this
shows in their facial expression
and their head movements. The
head and face are seen to
respond fittingly and
appropriately to what is being
said by the speaker. Nodding is
relevant to what is being said.
Smiles and other expressions are
relevant too. The head may tilt
sideways. Mirroring of
expressions may occur. Silences
are used to absorb meaning. The
eyes remain sharply focused on
the eyes of the speaker,
although at times might lower to
look at the mouth, especially in
male-female engagements.
2. Face body language
The face has around 90 muscles in it, with
about 30 of these purely for expressing
emotion. It can thus be used to send many non-
verbal signals, using its various features in
concert.
Color
Red
A generally red face may indicate that the
person is hot as the blood come to the to
surface to be cooled. They may heat up either
from exercise or emotional arousal, for example
when they are excited and energized.
A red face is typical of a person who is angry.
This is a clear danger signal, warning the
other person that they may be harmed if they do
not back down.
People blush with embarrassment in various
ways. Some people's neck goes red. With others
it is mostly the cheeks. Sometimes the whole
face goes red.
White
White skin may be a sign of coldness as the
blood goes deep to avoid cooling further.
White skin is also an indication of fear, often
extreme. This happens as the blood abandons a
surface that might be cut, going to muscles
where its power is needed more.
Blue
The skin can also take on a bluish tinge. This
can also indicate coldness or extreme fear.
Moisture
Sweating is the body's natural cooling
mechanism when it gets hot, possibly from
excitement and emotional arousal.
Sweat is also associated with fear, perhaps to
make the skin slippery and hence prevent an
opponent from taking a firm grasp.
Emotions
Here are some of the facial signals that you
might see for different emotions. Do note that
these are only possible indicators: not all
signals are needed and not all signals
5
indicated here necessarily indicate the
associated emotion.
Emotion Facial signals
Anxiety Eyes damp; eyebrows
slightly pushed together;
trembling lower lip; chin
possibly wrinkled; head
slightly tilted down.
Fear Eyes wide, closed or
pointing down; raised
eyebrows; mouth open or
corners turned down; chin
pulled in; head down,
white face.
Anger Eyes wide and staring;
eyebrows pulled down
(especially in middle);
wrinkled forehead; flared
nostrils; mouth flattened
or clenched teeth bared;
jutting chin, red face.
Happiness Mouth smiling (open or
closed); possible
laughter; crows-feet
wrinkles at sides of
sparkling eyes; slightly
raised eyebrows; head
level.
Sadness Eyes cast down and
possibly damp or tearful;
head down; lips pinched;
head down or to the side.
Envy Eyes staring; mouth
corners turned down; nose
turned in sneer; chin
jutting.
Desire Eyes wide open with
dilated pupils; slightly
raised eyebrows; lips
slightly parted or
puckered or smiling; head
tilted forward.
Interest Steady gaze of eyes at
item of interest (may be
squinting); slightly
raised eyebrows; lips
slightly pressed together;
head erect or pushed
forward.
Boredom Eyes looking away; face
generally immobile;
corners of mouth turned
down or lips pulled to the
side; head propped up with
hand.
Surprise Eyes wide open; eyebrows
raised high; mouth dropped
wide open with consequent
lowered chin; head held
back or tilted to side.
Relief Eyebrows tilted outwards
(lowered outer edges);
mouth either tilted down
or smiling; head tilted.
Disgust Eyes and head turned away;
nostrils flared; nose
twisted in sneer; mouth
closed, possibly with
tongue protruding; chin
jutting.
Shame Eyes and head turned down;
eyebrows held low; skin
blushing red.
Pity Eyes in extended gaze and
possibly damp; eyebrows
slightly pulled together
in middle or downwards at
edges; mouth turned down
at corners; head tilted to
side.
Calm Relaxed facial muscles and
steady gaze with eyes.
Perhaps mouth turned up
slightly at sides in
gentle smile.
3. Cheek body language
Cheeks can speak body language, although
admittedly not very much.
In-out
Cheeks can be drawn in or blown out. When
pulled in and particularly when linked with
pursed lips, it indicates disapproval.
Cheeks sucked in to the extent that the lower
lips curl can indicate pensiveness which may be
uncomfortable (look also for a furrowed brow).
When cheeks are blown out, this can signify
uncertainty as to what to do next (watch also
for raised eyebrows and rounded eyes). This may
be exaggerated by the person actually blowing
air from their mouth ('Pfoof - what do I do
now??').
Blown out cheeks can also be a sign of
exhaustion. If the person has been exercising
the face may also be red and sweaty.
Redness
Red cheeks is a classic sign of embarrassment.
Watch for them becoming red (some people just
have natural red cheeks). Red cheeks may also
be a sign of anger. Watch here for other anger
signs, such as enlarged and staring eyes.
Cheeks pale when blood drains from them. This
typically happens when a person is frightened
as the blood is moved to the muscles in
readiness to flee. Pale cheeks can also be a
sign of coldness.
Internal
Chewing the inside of the cheek or mouth can be
a hidden sign of nervousness and may indicate
lying.
Pushing the tongue into the cheek can show
pensiveness as the person thinks about
something and tries to come to a decision.
6
Touching
The cheek is a wide area that can be touched
without obscuring any of the functional organs.
Touching the cheek is often done in surprise or
horror. A light touch, along with an open mouth
that says 'Oooh' indicate light surprise.
Touching both cheeks with the flat of the palm
is an exaggeration of this and may indicate
horror.
4. Chin body language
The chin, as with other corners of the face,
has its own body language.
Protecting
The chin is vulnerable when fists are flying as
a good upper-cut punch can knock you out. Even
more vulnerable than the chin is the throat,
where a predator might try to asphyxiate you or
worse. Holding in the chin protects both it and
the throat, and hence is a naturally defensive
move that people use when they feel threatened.
Holding the chin in also lowers the head, which
is a submissive gesture. This is distinct from
the defensive move as the head tilts down more
and the eyes are often largely downcast. This
can similarly be a shy or flirting gesture.
Jutting
The chin can be used as a subtle pointing
device and a small flick of the head may give a
small signal that only people in the know are
likely to notice.
Jutting out the chin towards a person exposes
it and says 'Go on, I dare you, try to hit me
and see what happens!' This can thus be a
signal of defiance, if not towards the other
person then instead towards some situation or
person in the conversation.
Jutting may also exposes the teeth and is a
thus a threat to bite which may be added to an
aggressive display.
Pointing at a person with the finger is a
threatening act. Doing it briefly with the chin
is more covert and can thus be an insult.
Touching
Stroking the chin is often a signal that the
person is thinking hard. They may well be
judging or evaluating something, particularly
if the conversation has offered them a choice
or decision to make.
The head is a heavy object and is often propped
up by holding the chin in a cupped hand,
particularly when the person is tired and it
may drop. Boredom can make you sleepy and a
hand under the chin may be done to stop an
embarrassing drop of the head.
Holding the chin also prevents the head from
moving and can signal that the person wants to
send a head signal but simultaneously does not
want to send the signal, for example when they
emotionally agree and want to nod, but
intellectually want more information so they
can have good reason before they say yes.
Beard
Beards and moustaches are sometimes
controversial items, particularly in cultures
where being clean-shaven is the norm. A beard
may thus be an indicator of a non-conformist.
A full beard is more likely to indicate a
person who has no vanity needs and is confident
and relaxed as they are. When the beard is
shaped and neatly clipped, it may indicate a
more vain and fussy person who is particular
about how they appear and what they do.
An unkempt beard that is left to grow wild may
indicate an untidy mind or simply that the
person is lazy. It may also point to a person
for whom external appearance is unimportant,
such as a university intellectual.
Stroking a beard can be a preening gesture,
symbolically making oneself look beautiful and
hence sending 'I'm gorgeous' signals.
5. Mouth body language
Generally speaking body orifices are not
terribly desirable as they can cause problems
such as being entries for disease or can be
snagged on passing bushes. The mouth is perhaps
the ultimate multi-function orifice as we use
it for communicating, breathing and eating.
Emoting
The mouth is involved in the expression of many
different emotions, from happiness to sadness,
from fear to disgust. In emoting, the lips play
a major role in creating visible shapes, with
able backup from the teeth and tongue.
Breathing
We usually breath through the nose, but when we
need more oxygen we use the mouth to gulp in
greater amounts of air.
A person who is frightened or angry by the
fight-or-flight reaction may well open their
mouth to get more oxygen in preparation for
combat or running away. This may also involve
breathing faster (panting).
A hot person also pants hard. With typical the
red face, this can be mistaken for anger (or
vice versa).
Yawning is a process of taking a deep gulp of
air as a quick 'pick-me-up' and often indicate
a person who is tired or bored.
7
A short, deep, exhaling sigh, can indicate
sadness, frustration or boredom.
Short inhalation, particularly in a sequence,
can be like silent sobs and hence be an
indicator of deep and suppressed sadness.
Slow, deep breathing, sometimes with slightly
parted lips, may indicate someone who is
relaxing or meditating. With closed eyes, they
are seldom aware of what is going on around
them and this may be done as an escape.
Speaking
The mouth sends additional signals when it is
speaking.
If the mouth moves little, perhaps including
incoherent mumbling, this may indicate an
unwillingness to speak, for example from
shyness or from a fear of betraying themselves.
A mouth that moves a lot during speech can
indicate excitement or dominance as it sends
clear signals that 'I am speaking, do not
interrupt!'
Careful shaping of words can also indicate a
person with auditory preferences or a concern
for precision and neatness.
Fast speakers are often visual thinkers who are
trying to get out what they are seeing. They
may also be looking upwards.
Slow speakers may be deep thinkers who are
being careful about finding the right words.
They may also have an auditory preference as
they carefully enunciate each word.
Eating
The mouth is also used for eating, and the way
people eat can tell things about them.
A well-mannered person opens their mouth the
minimum to put in a moderate amount of food and
keeps it closed whilst carefully chewing each
mouthful. They also do not speak when they
have food in their mouth.
On the other hand, an uncouth person gobbles
large mouthfuls and opens their mouth as they
chew and talk at the same time.
In a curious reversal, snobbish gourmands who
take great pleasure in eating may do it noisily
as an expression of pleasure. This may also be
a cultural variable and in some places noisy
eating is not only acceptable but also
desirable.
People who chew smaller amounts at the front of
their mouth are like children whose molars have
not developed and may be timid.
People who chew for a longer time may be
chewing on ideas at the same time.
When people slide their jaw sideways when they
eat are grinding the food. this may also be
pensive.
Drinking
As with eating, drinking may be done in a
polite way, sipping smaller amounts and
swallowing noiselessly. It may also be done
with loud glugging and followed by equally
distasteful burping -- although again, in some
cultures this is a desirable expression of
pleasure.
Someone who is slooshing their drink around
their mouth may well be thinking and deciding.
Covering
Sometimes the hand is used to cover the mouth.
In polite society, exposing the inside of your
mouth may be considered rude, so the hand is
used to politely cover a yawn.
The hand is also used to conceal the mouth when
it will betray emotions that may be
undesirable. Thus we put our hands over
impolite giggles and smirks. This may also be a
reason for hiding a yawn. We also cover the
open mouth of surprise and the downturned mouth
of sadness.
Smiling
Smiling indicates pleasure, either that you are
generally happy and are enjoying the other
person's company or that you are amused by
something in particular, such as a joke.
A full smile engages the whole face,
particularly including the eyes, which crease
and 'twinkle'.
Smiling with lips only is often falsehood,
where the smiler wants to convey pleasure or
approval but is actually feeling something
else. This false smile is known as the Duchenne
smile, after the scientists who first described
it in 1862. False smiles also tend to last for
longer.
A genuine smile is often asymmetric and usually
larger on the right side of the face. A false
smile may be more symmetrical or larger on the
left side of the face.
Lowering the jaw to show a D-shaped mouth can
be a false smile as it is easy to do. It may
also be a deliberate signal of amusement and
and an invitation to laugh.
Smiling without opening the mouth, and
particularly with lips firmly pressed together,
may indicate embarrassment about unsightly
teeth. It may also be a suppression of words
8
('I can see the funny side, but I'm not going
to comment.').
A half-smile, on one side of the face, may
indicate cynicism, sarcasm or uncertainty
('Sorry, I don't buy that idea.').
Smiling is also a sign of submission as the
person effectively says 'I am nice and not a
threat'.
Smiling in some cultures indicates a question
or that you want the other person to speak.
Laughing
Beyond smiling, laughter shows greater pleasure
and happiness. Whilst smiling may happen over a
longer period, laughter is a relatively brief
affair, happening for a few seconds.
There are many variants on laughter and we all
laugh differently, from the suppressed titter
to the loud and uproarious belly-laugh. Louder
and less suppressed laughter may indicate
someone who is less self-conscious. It may also
be used by a person who is trying to gain
attention.
In general, women laugh at men they like whilst
men like women who laugh at them ('It's
working! She likes me.'). This can lead to a
satisfying bonding mechanism.
'Funny' often gets equated to 'nice' and
'harmless' and the use of humor thus can a way
of sending friendship signals. Laughing at
risqué jokes is a sign of acceptance of the
other person (the alternative is to criticize
or otherwise censure them).
Laughing and smiling at the misfortune of
others is often socially unacceptable although
we often find this funny (Germans call this
'schadenfreude'). In such cases you may see
suppressed grins and giggles as the person
tries desperately to hide their feeling of
amusement. Laughs, for example may get
disguised as coughs and the person may turn
away to hide their expression.
Yawning
Yawning is opening the mouth wide and gulping
in a large quantity of air. We do it when we
are tired and blood oxygen is low.
Boredom can indicated by yawning, signalling
that the other person is so uninteresting they
are sending us to sleep, which makes it often
impolite (also because it shows the inside of
the body). This results often in the yawn being
covered with the hand or concealed such as by
turning the head or holding the mouth more
closed than it actually want to be.
The gulping of air in yawning can also be in
preparation for action and a stressed person
may yawn more, or at least take some bigger
breaths.
signal part
of
body
possible
meaning(s
)
detailed explanation
pasted
smile
mout
h
faked
smile
A pasted smile is one
which appears quickly, is
fixed for longer than a
natural smile, and seems
not to extend to the
eyes. This typically
indicates suppressed
displeasure or forced
agreement of some sort.
tight-
lipped
smile
mout
h
secrecy
or
withheld
feelings
Stretched across face in
a straight line, teeth
concealed. The smiler has
a secret they are not
going to share, possibly
due to dislike or
distrust. Can also be a
rejection signal.
twiste
d
smile
mout
h
mixed
feelings
or
sarcasm
Shows opposite emotions
on each side of the face.
droppe
d-jaw
smile
mout
h
faked
smile
More of a practised fake
smile than an instinctive
one. The jaw is dropped
lower than in a natural
smile, the act of which
creates a smile.
smile
- head
tilted
,
lookin
g up
mout
h
playfulne
ss,
teasing,
coy
Head tilted sideways and
downwards so as to part
hide the face, from which
the smile is directed via
the eyes at the intended
target.
bottom
lip
juttin
g out
mout
h
upset Like rubbing eyes can be
an adult version of
crying, so jutting or
pushing the bottom lip
forward is a part of the
crying face and impulse.
Bear in mind that people
cry for reasons of
genuine upset, or to
avert attack and seek
sympathy or kind
treatment.
laught
er
mout
h
relaxatio
n
Laughter deserves a
section in its own right
because its such an
interesting area. In
terms of body language
genuine laughter is a
sign of relaxation and
feeling at ease. Natural
laughter can extend to
all the upper body or
whole body. The
physiology of laughter is
significant. Endorphins
are released. Pain and
stress reduces. Also
vulnerabilities show and
can become more visible
because people’s guard
drops when laughing.
forced
laught
er
mout
h
nervousne
ss,
cooperati
on
Unnatural laughter is
often a signal of
nervousness or stress, as
an effort to dispel
tension or change the
atmosphere. Artificial
laughter is a signal of
cooperation and a wish to
maintain empathy.
biting
lip
mout
h
tension One of many signals
suggesting tension or
stress, which can be due
to high concentration,
but more likely to be
anxiousness.
9
teeth
grindi
ng
mout
h
tension,
suppressi
on
Inwardly-directed
‘displacement’ sign, due
to suppression of natural
reaction due to fear or
other suppressant.
chewin
g gum
mout
h
tension,
suppressi
on
As above - an inwardly-
directed ‘displacement’
sign, due to suppression
of natural reaction.
Otherwise however can
simply be to freshen
breath, or as a smoking
replacement.
smokin
g
mout
h
self-
comfortin
g
Smoking obviously becomes
habitual and addictive,
but aside from this
people put things into
their mouths because it’s
comforting like thumb-
sucking is to a child, in
turn rooted in baby
experiences of feeding
and especially
breastfeeding.
chewin
g pen
or
pencil
mout
h
self-
comfortin
g
Like smoking and infant
thumbsucking. The pen is
the teat. Remember that
next time you chew the
end of your pen…
pursin
g lips
mout
h
thoughtfu
lness, or
upset
As if holding the words
in the mouth until they
are ready to be released.
Can also indicate
anxiousness or impatience
at not being able to
speak. Or quite
differently can indicate
upset, as if suppressing
crying.
tongue
poke
mout
h /
tong
ue
disapprov
al,
rejection
The tongue extends
briefly and slightly at
the centre of the mouth
as if tasting something
nasty. The gesture may be
extremely subtle. An
extreme version may be
accompanied by a
wrinkling of the nose,
and a squint of the eyes.
hand
clampe
d over
mouth
mout
h /
hand
s
suppressi
on,
holding
back,
shock
Often an unconscious
gesture of self-
regulation - stopping
speech for reasons of
shock, embarrassment, or
for more tactical
reasons. The gesture is
reminiscent of the ’speak
no evil’ wise monkey. The
action can be observed
very clearly in young
children when they
witness something
‘unspeakably’ naughty or
shocking. Extreme
versions of the same
effect would involve both
hands.
nail
biting
mout
h /
hand
s
frustrati
on,
suppressi
on
Nail-biting is an
inwardly-redirected
aggression borne of fear,
or some other suppression
of behaviour. Later nail-
biting becomes reinforced
as a comforting habit,
again typically prompted
by frustration or fear.
Stress in this context is
an outcome. Stress
doesn’t cause nail-
biting; nail-biting is
the outward demonstration
of stress. The cause of
the stress can be various
things (stressors). See
the stress article for
more detail about stress.
6. Lips body language
Lips can say a lot of things without words. Our
muscles around them mean we can shape them with
incredibly fine control. Lipstick is used to
draw attention to the lips, thus exaggerating
further the signals sent by them.
Parted
Lips which are slightly parted can be a strong
flirting signal, particularly if the lips are
then licked and even more so if done whilst
holding the gaze of another person.
Parting lips is the first stage in speaking and
may thus be a signal that the person wants to
talk.
Pursed
Lips which are pulled inwards from all
directions are an indication of tension and may
indicate frustration or disapproval.
Pursed lips are a classic sign of anger,
including when it is suppressed. It is
effectively holding the mouth shut to prevent
the person saying what they feel like saying.
Puckered
A light puckering of the lips into a kiss shape
typically indicates desire. It can also
indicate uncertainty, particularly if the lips
are touched with the fingers.
When you say 'oo', the lips form the kiss
shape. This is one reason that romantic songs
often linger on words like 'you' and 'too'.
Flattened
Lips which are kept horizontal but squeezed
flat are an exaggerated closing of the mouth
and hence indicate a repressed desire to speak.
This indicate disapproval ('If I spoke I would
be very critical, which I do not want to be').
It can also indicate frustration ('I want to
speak, but others are speaking and I feel I
should wait').
Flattened lips can also indicate a refusal to
eat, either because of dislike of offered food
or some other motivation.
Turned up
When the corners of the mouth are turned
upwards, this can be a grimace of disgust or a
smile of pleasure. In a grimace, the teeth are
unlikely to be shown (although toothless smiles
are also common). Grimaces are often flatter
and tenser.
10
A full smile engages the whole face,
particularly including the eyes. Smiling with
lips only is often falsehood, where the smiler
wants to convey pleasure or approval but is
actually feeling something else.
Turned down
Corners of the mouth turned down indicates
sadness or displeasure.
Some people are so miserable so often, this is
the natural state of rest of their mouths
(which is perhaps rather sad).
Retracted
When the lips are pulled back, they expose the
teeth. This may be in a broad smile or it may
be a snarl of aggression. The eyes should tell
you which is which. In a snarl, the eyes are
either narrowed or staring. In a full smile,
the corners of the eyes are creased.
Moving
Lips which are moving in the shape of words but
without making sounds means that the person is
thinking of saying the words. This
subvocalization often happens with very small
movement and is often completely subconscious.
Stage mentalists use this when they ask their
'victims' to think hard of a word and then lip-
read as they silently sound the word.
Up and down movement may indicate chewing. Some
people chew the insides of their mouths when
they are nervous.
Rolling in the lips so they roll across one
another can be a preening gesture for women,
evening out lipstick. It can also be a sign of
uncertainty or disapproval (look for
accompanying lowered eyebrows).
Twitching
Small, lightning-fast movements of the mouth
betray inner thoughts, for example a single
twitch of the corner of the mouth that
indicates cynicism or disbelief.
Liars in particular will often give themselves
away with very brief grimaces as their
conscience expresses disapproval of the
conscious lies.
Protruding
When the top lip is over the bottom lip, this
may be linked with biting of the bottom lip, a
common indicator that the person is feeling
guilty about something.
The bottom lip extended over the top lip can
indicate uncertainty, as if the person is
saying 'umm'.
The bottom lip jutting out is often a part of a
sulky pout, where the person expresses child-
like petulance at not getting their own way.
Both lips pressed together and pushed out
generally indicates doubt. If the finger
touches them, it may indicate internal thinking
or may say 'I am considering speaking but am
not quite ready to talk yet'.
Biting
Biting the lip, centrally or at the side, is
often a sign of anxiety. Usually, this is the
bottom lip (especially if the person has
overhanging top teeth). This may be a habitual
action and people who do this, will often
repeat the move in predictable situations.
This is a fairly child-like action, especially
if accompanied by wide eyes and eyebrows raised
in the middle and lowered at the sides, and
thus may betray concern about being told off or
otherwise being censured in the manner of a
child.
Relaxed
Finally, the lips will have a position of rest
when they are not pulled in any direction. This
usually indicates that the person is also
feeling relaxed.
7. Teeth body language
There's not a lot of body language with teeth,
but this is a complete section, so here's
details.
Biting
Teeth are made to bite, tear and grind.
Exposing the teeth in a snarl is saying 'I am
thinking of biting you' and is hence a
primitive and potentially scary threat.
Actual biting is rare, but indicates the person
has been reduced to a base position and is
probably not thinking rationally.
Biting can also be affectionate, for example
where lovers chew the other person's lip or
ear. This can create arousal from the basic
fear instinct but the person knows from the
context that they are not in danger and hence
reframes the arousal as pleasure. Gentle biting
also stimulates nerve receptors and is thus
similar to touch.
Young animals at play pretend to bite one
another as they prepare for adulthood. When
people play with friends they may also expose
their teeth.
11
Smiling
Exposing the teeth in smiling tends to indicate
extreme pleasure. People who are self-conscious
and particularly if their teeth are not that
attractive may try not to show their teeth when
smiling.
Noise
Teeth can make a noise when banged or slid
together. Chattering teeth may indicate extreme
fear and is usually accompanied by shaking of
the body. This may also indicate extreme
coldness.
Grinding teeth can indicate suppressed anger or
frustration as the person tensely tries not to
speak.
Light tapping of the teeth can be mild
frustration or thinking (it is similar in
effect to tapping of a finger).
As with other repetitive action, teeth noise
can also just be habit.
Tapping
Sometimes people tap their teeth with their
nails, making a noise that echoes in the mouth.
This can signal thinking or boredom. It may
also be a deliberate interruption or irritant,
although this is less likely.
8. Tongue body language
The tongue is normally important in spoken body
language. In practice it can also send some
body language non-verbal signals.
Sticking out
A deliberate gesture of sticking out the tongue
at a person is impolite, although considered
rather childish and thus reflects as much on
the person doing it. The gesture thus appears
petulant unless it is done in an amusingly
cheeky way. The rest of the face should
indicate more of the intent. Cheeky tongue-
poking is often followed by a smile or
laughter.
Sticking out the tongue also can happen when
the person is trying hard to do something. When
this happens it traditionally appears at the
side of the mouth.
When people are talking in romantic setting,
sticking out the tongue can be a sign of lust.
Licking
The tongue can be used to lick. By oneself,
pretty much the only thing the tongue can lick
is the lips (although a more hidden way of this
is licking the teeth).
Lip-licking may indicate desire, perhaps for
another person and perhaps for food. Usually it
is for what is in front of the licker.
As a deliberate signal to others it can be
sexually enticing, saying 'I would like to like
you'. As such, it can be very arousing,
particularly when done slowly and with other
flirting signals such as a slightly lowered
head and steady gaze.
Licking another person can be extremely
arousing and is typically done either as a part
of foreplay or as a quick tease.
Biting it
Biting the tongue typically indicates that the
biter wants to say something but somehow feels
unable or unwilling to say what they want,
perhaps for fear of offending or breaking
social rules.
Inside the mouth
With mouth closed and tongue inside the mouth,
you can still sometimes see what it is doing.
Pressed against the cheek it can indicate
thinking and uncertainty. Pushed in front of
the teeth, pushing out the lips, can also
indicate uncertainty.
9. Nose body language
The nose, which is right in the middle of the
face, can send a certain amount of body
language.
Flared
When the nostrils are widened it allows more
air to be breathed in and out and readies the
person for combat. In a related sense, this can
indicate the person is experiencing extreme
displeasure.
Flared nostrils may also indicate that the
person is making an internal judgment about
something.
Wrinkled
The nose can be wrinkled by pushing up from the
mouth. This happens when a bad smell is
detected. It can also appear with a metaphoric
bad smell is thought about, for example when
somebody else suggests a distasteful idea (see:
even language uses bad-taste metaphor!).
Another variation is when the person is
thinking about something but is not satisfied
with their own ideas.
Sniffing
Aside from when a person has a cold, sniffing
can indicate displeasure or disgust. This may
12
also happen on one side, with the mouth
twitching up as well.
Touching it
Touching the nose can indicate that the person
has detected a bad smell. It is also common
signal from a person who is not telling the
truth.
When a person lies, blood vessels in their nose
may dilate, making the nose swell or appear
redder. This also may lead to them touching or
scratching the nose.
Rubbing the finger alongside the nose can
indicate disagreement.
Pinching the bridge of the nose can show the
person is evaluating something, usually
negatively and with some frustration.
Fiddling with the nose or pressing it down can
just be a habit when the person is thinking.
10. Eyes body language
A.
The eyes are often called, with some
justification, 'the windows of the soul' as
they can send many different non-verbal
signals.
For reading body language this is quite useful
as looking at people's eyes are a normal part
of communication (whilst gazing at other parts
of the body can be seen as rather rude).
Looking up
When a person looks upwards they are often
thinking. In particular they are probably
making pictures in their head and thus may well
be an indicator of a visual thinker.
When they are delivering a speech or
presentation, looking up may be their recalling
their prepared words.
Looking upwards and to the left can indicate
recalling a memory. Looking upwards and the
right can indicate imaginative construction of
a picture (which can hence betray a liar). Be
careful with this: sometimes the directions are
reversed -- if in doubt, test the person by
asking them to recall known facts or imagine
something.
Looking up may also be a signal of boredom as
the person examines the surroundings in search
of something more interesting.
Head lowered and eyes looking back up at the
other person is a coy and suggestive action as
it combines the head down of submission with
eye contact of attraction. It can also be
judgemental, especially when combined with a
frown.
Looking down
Looking at a person can be an act of power and
domination. Looking down involves not looking
at the other person, which hence may be a sign
of submission ('I am not a threat, really;
please do not hurt me. You are so glorious I
would be dazzled if I looked at you.')
Looking down can thus be a signal of
submission. It can also indicate that the
person is feeling guilty.
A notable way that a lower person looks down at
a higher person is by tilting their head back.
Even taller people may do this.
Looking down and to the left can indicate that
they are talking to themselves (look for slight
movement of the lips). Looking down and to the
right can indicate that they are attending to
internal emotions.
In many cultures where eye contact is a rude or
dominant signal, people will look down when
talking with others in order to show respect.
Looking sideways
Much of our field of vision is in the
horizontal plane, so when a person looks
sideways, they are either looking away from
what is in front of them or looking towards
something that has taken their interest.
A quick glance sideways can just be checking
the source of a distraction to assess for
threat or interest. It can also be done to show
irritation ('I didn't appreciate that
comment!').
Looking to the left can indicate a person
recalling a sound. Looking to the right can
indicate that they are imagining the sound. As
with visual and other movements, this can be
reversed and may need checking against known
truth and fabrication.
Lateral movement
Eyes moving from side-to-side can indicate
shiftiness and lying, as if the person is
looking for an escape route in case they are
found out.
Lateral movement can also happen when the
person is being conspiratorial, as if they are
checking that nobody else is listening.
Eyes may also move back and forth sideways (and
sometimes up and down) when the person is
visualizing a big picture and is literally
looking it over.
13
Gazing
Looking at something shows an interest in it,
whether it is a painting, a table or a person.
When looking at a person normally, the gaze is
usually at eye level or above (see eye contact,
below). The gaze can also be a defocused
looking at the general person.
Looking at a person's mouth can indicate that
you would like to kiss them. Looking at sexual
regions indicates a desire to have sexual
relations with them.
Looking up and down at a whole person is
usually sizing them up, either as a potential
threat or as a sexual partner (notice where the
gaze lingers). This can be quite insulting and
hence indicate a position of presumed
dominance, as the person effectively says 'I am
more powerful than you, your feelings are
unimportant to me and you will submit to my
gaze'.
Looking at their forehead or not at them
indicates disinterest. This may also be shown
by defocused eyes where the person is 'inside
their head' thinking about other things.
It is difficult to conceal a gaze as we are
particularly adept at identifying exactly where
other people are looking. This is one reason
why we have larger eye whites than animals, as
it aids complex communication.
Eye contact in many cultures is considered
dominant or rude.
Glancing
Glancing at something can betray a desire for
that thing, for example glancing at the door
can indicate a desire to leave.
Glancing at a person can indicate a desire to
talk with them. It can also indicate a concern
for that person's feeling when something is
said that might upset them.
Glancing may indicate a desire to gaze at
something or someone where it is forbidden to
look for a prolonged period.
Eye contact
Doe eyes
A softening of the eyes, with relaxing of
muscles around the eye and a slight defocusing
as the person tries to take in the whole person
is sometimes called doe eyes, as it often
indicates sexual desire, particularly if the
gaze is prolonged and the pupils are dilated
(see below). The eyes may also appear shiny.
Making eye contact
Looking at a person acknowledges them and shows
that you are interested in them, particularly
if you look in their eyes.
Looking at a person's eyes also lets you know
where they are looking. We are amazingly good
at detecting what they are looking at and can
detect even a brief glance at parts of our
body, for example.
If a person says something when you are looking
away and then you make eye contact, then this
indicates they have grabbed your attention.
Breaking eye contact
Prolonged eye contact can be threatening, so in
conversation we frequently look away and back
again.
Breaking eye contact can indicate that
something that has just been said that makes
the person not want to sustain eye contact, for
example that they are insulted, they have been
found out, they feel threatened, etc. This can
also happen when the person thinks something
that causes the same internal discomfort.
Looking at a person, breaking eye contact and
then looking immediately back at them is a
classic flirting action, particularly with the
head held coyly low in suggested submission.
Long eye contact
Eye contact longer than normal can have several
different meanings.
Eye contact often increases significantly when
we are listening, and especially when we are
paying close attention to what the other person
is saying. Less eye contact is used when
talking, particularly by people who are visual
thinkers as they stare into the distance or
upwards as they 'see' what they are talking
about.
We also look more at people we like and like
people who look at us more. When done with doe
eyes and smiles, it is a sign of attraction.
Lovers will stare into each others eyes for a
long period. Attraction is also indicated by
looking back and forth between the two eyes, as
if we are desperately trying to determine if
they are interested in us too.
An attraction signal that is more commonly used
by women is to hold the other person's gaze for
about three seconds, Then look down for a
second or two and then look back up again (to
see if they have taken the bait). If the other
person is still looking at them, they are
rewarded with a coy smile or a slight widening
of the eyes ('Yes, this message is for you!').
When done without blinking, contracted pupils
and an immobile face, this can indicate
14
domination, aggression and use of power. In
such circumstances a staring competition can
ensue, with the first person to look away
admitting defeat.
Prolonged eye contact can be disconcerting. A
trick to reduce stress from this is to look at
the bridge of their nose. They will think you
are still looking in their eyes.
Sometimes liars, knowing that low eye contact
is a sign of lying, will over-compensate and
look at you for a longer than usual period.
Often this is done without blinking as they
force themselves into this act. They may smile
with the mouth, but not with the eyes as this
is more difficult.
Limited eye contact
When a person makes very little eye contact,
they may be feeling insecure. They may also be
lying and not want to be detected.
Staring
Staring is generally done with eyes wider than
usual, prolonged attention to something and
with reduced blinking. It generally indicates
particular interest in something or someone.
Staring at a person can indicate shock and
disbeliefs, particularly after hearing
unexpected news.
When the eyes are defocused, the person's
attention may be inside their head and what
they are staring at may be of no significance.
(Without care, this can become quite
embarrassing for them).
Prolonged eye contact can be aggressive,
affectionate or deceptive and is discussed
further above. Staring at another's eyes is
usually more associated with aggressive action.
Following
The eyes will naturally follow movement of any
kind. If the person is looking at something of
interest then they will naturally keep looking
at this. They also follow neutral or feared
things in case the movement turns into a
threat.
This is used when sales people move something
like a pen or finger up and down, guiding where
the customer looks, including to eye contact
and to parts of the product being sold.
Squinting
Narrowing of a person's eyes can indicate
evaluation, perhaps considering that something
told to them is not true (or at least not fully
so).
It can similarly indicate uncertainty ('I
cannot quite see what is meant here.')
Squinting can also be used by liars who do not
want the other person to detect their
deception.
When a person thinks about something and does
not want to look at the internal image, they
may involuntarily squint.
Squinting can also happen when lights or the
sun are bright.
Lowering of eyelids is not really a squint but
can have a similar meaning. It can also
indicate tiredness.
Lowering eyelids whilst still looking at the
other person can be a part of a romantic and
suggestive cluster, and may be accompanied with
tossing back the head and slightly puckering
the lips in a kiss.
Blinking
Blinking is a neat natural process whereby the
eyelids wipe the eyes clean, much as a
windscreen wiper on a car.
Blink rate tends to increase when people are
thinking more. This can be an indication of
lying as the liar has to keep thinking about
what they are saying. Realizing this, they may
also force their eyes open and appear to stare.
Blinking can also indicate rapport, and people
who are connected often blink at the same rate.
Someone who is listening carefully to you is
more likely to blink when you pause (keeping
eyes open to watch everything you say).
Beyond natural random blinking, a single blink
can signal surprise that the person does not
quite believe what they see ('I'll wipe my eyes
clean to better see').
Rapid blinking blocks vision and can be an
arrogant signal, saying 'I am so important, I
do not need to see you'.
Rapid blinking also flutters the eyelashes and
can be a coy romantic invitation.
Winking
Closing one eye in a wink is a deliberate
gesture that often suggests conspiratorial
('You and I both understand, though others do
not').
Winking can also be a slightly suggestive
greeting and is reminiscent of a small wave of
the hand ('Hello there, gorgeous!').
15
Closing
Closing the eyes shuts out the world. This can
mean 'I do not want to see what is in front of
me, it is so terrible'.
Sometimes when people are talking they close
their eyes. This is an equivalent to turning
away so eye contact can be avoided and any
implied request for the other person to speak
is effectively ignored.
Visual thinkers may also close their eyes,
sometimes when talking, so they can better see
the internal images without external
distraction.
Damp
The tear ducts provide moisture to the eyes,
both for washing them and for tears.
Damp eyes can be suppressed weeping, indicating
anxiety, fear or sadness. It can also indicate
that the person has been crying recently.
Dampness can also occur when the person is
tired (this may be accompanied by redness of
the eyes.
Tears
Actual tears that roll down the cheeks are
often a symptom of extreme fear or sadness,
although paradoxically you can also weep tears
of joy.
Weeping can be silent, with little expression
other than the tears (indicating a certain
amount of control). It also typically involves
screwing up of the face and, when emotions are
extreme, can be accompanied by uncontrollable,
convulsive sobs.
Men in many culture are not expected to cry and
learn to suppress this response, not even being
able to cry when alone. Even if their eyes feel
damp they may turn away.
Tears and sadness may be transformed into
anger, which may be direct at whoever is
available.
Pupil size
A subtle signal that is sometimes detected only
subconsciously and is seldom realized by the
sender is where the pupil gets larger (dilates)
or contracts.
Sexual desire is a common cause of pupil
dilation, and is sometimes called 'bedroom
eyes' (magazine pictures sometimes have
deliberately doctored eyes to make a model look
more attractive). When another person's eyes
dilate we may be attracted further to them and
our eyes dilate in return. Likewise, when their
pupils are small, ours may well contract also.
Pupils dilate also when it is darker to let in
more light (perhaps this is why clubs and bars
are so dingy!).
The reverse of this is that pupils contract
when we do not like the other person, perhaps
in an echo of squint-like narrowing of the
eyes.
Rubbing
When a person is feeling uncomfortable, the
eyes may water a little. To cover this and try
to restore an appropriate dryness, they person
may rub their eye and maybe even feign
tiredness or having something in the eye. This
also gives the opportunity to turn the head
away.
The rubbing may be with one finger, with a
finger and thumb (for two eyes) or with both
hands. The more the coverage, the more the
person is trying to hide behind the hands.
B.
Our eyes are a very significant aspect of the
non-verbal signals we send to others.
To a lesser or greater extent we all ‘read’
people’s eyes without knowing how or why, and
this ability seems to be inborn.
Eyes - and especially our highly developed
awareness of what we see in other people’s eyes
- are incredible.
Eyes tend to look right when the brain is
imagining or creating, and left when the brain
is recalling or remembering. This relates to
right and left sides of the brain - in this
context broadly the parts of the brain handling
creativity/feelings (right) and facts/memory
(left). This is analysed in greater detail
below. Under certain circumstances ‘creating’
can mean fabrication or lying, especially (but
not always - beware), when the person is
supposed to be recalling facts. Looking right
when stating facts does not necessarily mean
lying - it could for example mean that the
person does not know the answer, and is talking
hypothetically or speculating or guessing.
signal possible
meaning(s)
detailed explanation
looking
right
(general
ly)
creating,
fabricatin
g,
guessing,
lying,
storytelli
ng
Creating here is basically
making things up and saying
them. Depending on context
this can indicate lying, but
in other circumstances, for
example, storytelling to a
child, this would be
perfectly normal. Looking
right and down indicates
accessing feelings, which
again can be a perfectly
genuine response or not,
depending on the context, and
to an extent the person.
looking
left
(general
ly)
recalling,
rememberin
g,
retrieving
Recalling and and then
stating ‘facts’ from memory
in appropriate context often
equates to telling the truth.
16
‘facts’ Whether the ‘facts’
(memories) are correct is
another matter. Left downward
looking indicates silent
self-conversation or self-
talk, typically in trying to
arrive at a view or decision.
looking
right
and up
visual
imagining,
fabricatio
n, lying
Related to imagination and
creative (right-side) parts
of the brain, this upwards
right eye-movement can be a
warning sign of fabrication
if a person is supposed to be
recalling and stating facts.
looking
right
sideways
imagining
sounds
Sideways eye movements are
believed to indicate
imagining (right) or
recalling (left) sounds,
which can include for example
a person imagining or
fabricating what another
person has said or could say.
looking
right
and down
accessing
feelings
This is a creative signal but
not a fabrication - it can
signal that the person is
self-questioning their
feelings about something.
Context particularly- and
other signals - are important
for interpreting more
specific meaning about this
signal.
looking
left and
up
recalling
images
truthfulne
ss
Related to accessing memory
in the brain, rather than
creating or imagining. A
reassuring sign if signalled
when the person is recalling
and stating facts.
looking
left
sideways
recalling
or
rememberin
g sounds
Looking sideways suggests
sounds; looking left suggests
recalling or remembering -
not fabricating or imagining.
This therefore could indicate
recalling what has been said
by another person.
looking
left
down
self-
talking,
rationaliz
ing
Thinking things through by
self-talk - concerning an
outward view, rather than the
inward feelings view
indicated by downward right
looking.
direct
eye
contact
(when
speaking
)
honesty -
or faked
honesty
Direct eye contact is
generally regarded as a sign
of truthfulness, however
practised liars know this and
will fake the signal.
direct
eye
contact
(when
listenin
g)
attentiven
ess,
interest,
attraction
Eyes which stay focused on
the speakers eyes, tend to
indicate focused interested
attention too, which is
normally a sign of attraction
to the person and/or the
subject.
widening
eyes
interest,
appeal,
invitation
Widening the eyes generally
signals interest in something
or someone, and often invites
positive response. Widened
eyes with raised eyebrows can
otherwise be due to shock,
but aside from this, widening
eyes represents an opening
and welcoming expression. In
women especially widened eyes
tend to increase
attractiveness, which is
believed by some body
language experts to relate to
the eye/face proportions of
babies, and the associated
signals of attraction and
prompting urges to protect
and offer love and care, etc.
rubbing
eye or
eyes
disbelief,
upset, or
tiredness
Rubbing eyes or one eye can
indicate disbelief, as if
checking the vision, or
upset, in which the action
relates to crying, or
tiredness, which can be due
boredom, not necessarily a
need for sleep. If the signal
is accompanied by a long
pronounced blink, this tends
to support the tiredness
interpretation.
eye
shrug
frustratio
n
An upward roll of the eyes
signals frustration or
exasperation, as if looking
to the heavens for help.
pupils
dilated
(enlarge
d)
attraction
, desire
The pupil is the black centre
of the eye which opens or
closes to let in more or less
light. Darkness causes pupils
to dilate. So too, for some
reason does seeing something
appealing or attractive. The
cause of the attraction
depends on the situation. In
the case of sexual attraction
the effect can be mutual -
dilated pupils tend to be
more appealing sexually that
contracted ones, perhaps
because of an instinctive
association with darkness,
night-time, bedtime, etc.,
although the origins of this
effect are unproven. Resist
the temptation to imagine
that everyone you see with
dilated pupils is sexually
attracted to you.
blinking
frequent
ly
excitement
, pressure
Normal human blink rate is
considered to be between six
and twenty times a minute,
depending on the expert.
Significantly more than this
is a sign of excitement or
pressure. Blink rate can
increase to up to a hundred
times a minute. Blink rate is
not a reliable sign of lying.
blinking
infreque
ntly
various Infrequent blink rate can
mean different things and so
offers no single clue unless
combined with other signals.
An infrequent blink rate is
probably due to boredom if
the eyes are not focused, or
can be the opposite -
concentration - if
accompanied with a strongly
focused gaze. Infrequent
blink rate can also be
accompanied by signals of
hostility or negativity, and
is therefore not the most
revealing of body language
signals.
eyebrow
raising
(eyebrow
‘flash’)
greeting,
recognitio
n,
acknowledg
ement
Quickly raising and lowering
the eyebrows is called an
‘eyebrow flash’. It is a
common signal of greeting and
acknowledgement, and is
perhaps genetically
influenced since it is
prevalent in monkeys (body
language study does not sit
entirely happily alongside
creationism). Fear and
surprise are also signalled
by the eyebrow flash, in
which case the eyebrows
normally remain raised for
longer, until the initial
shock subsides.
winking friendly
acknowledg
ement,
complicity
(e.g.,
sharing a
secret or
Much fuss was made in May
2007 when George W Bush
winked at the Queen. The fuss
was made because a wink is
quite an intimate signal,
directed exclusively from one
person to another, and is
17
joke) associated with male
flirting. It is strange that
a non-contact wink can carry
more personal implications
than a physical handshake,
and in many situations more
than a kiss on the cheek. A
wink is given additional
spice if accompanied by a
click of the tongue. Not many
people can carry it off.
Additionally - and this was
partly the sense in which
Bush used it - a wink can
signal a shared joke or
secret.
11. Eyebrow body language
Eyebrows can send body language. Being near the
eyes, which are the major senders of signals,
they are highly visible communicators, although
the limited control of muscles around them can
limit what they say.
Lowered
Lowering the eyebrows conceals the eyes to a
certain degree. Particularly with a lowered
head, this can thus indicate deception or a
desire that eye signals are harder to see.
Lowered eyebrows may also indicate annoyance,
perhaps effectively saying 'I am so displeased,
I do not want to look at you.' Related to this,
lowered eyebrows are a sign of a dominant
person.
Raised
When a person is surprised, their eyebrows are
often raised. This typically happens as a part
of opening the eyes wider, perhaps to see more
clearly what is going on. The more the
surprise. the higher the eyebrows are raised.
Raising the eyebrows can also signal a
question. When as question is asked and the
eyebrows raised afterwards, this is a clear
invitation to answer the question.
Opposite to the dominant lowering of eyebrows,
raising eyebrows is may be a submissive move or
indicate openness, as it lets the other person
see your eyes ('I am not looking where I should
not!').
Raising a single eyebrow is something that only
some people can do and can be a bit more wry in
its meaning, for example asking 'Are you sure?'
when the other person appears to be talking
with limited accuracy.
Middle-raised
By pushing together the eyebrows and pulling up
the forehead, the eyebrows can be made to slope
outwards. This can indicate relief ('Whew!').
It can also indicate anxiety ('Oh no!').
Middle-lowered
When the middle of the eyebrows are pulled down
so they slope inwards, this often shows that
the person is angry or frustrated. It can also
indicate intense concentration.
Oscillating
When we see people we know, we often give a
quick up-down flash of the eyebrows in
recognition and greeting. This is a common
signal across all primates, including monkeys
and gorillas.
Rapid and repeated up and down movement may be
an exaggerated signal, meaning 'Well how about
that then!', in the way that Groucho Marx used
it.
12. Forehead body language
The forehead has its place in body language
communications, often as a part of a wider set
of signals. It is near the eyes and can be
looked at without sending other signals (for
example looking the mouth can say 'I want to
kiss you'), which can make even small movements
with it reliably observed and hence
significant. Its main limitation is that it can
only make a few movements.
Wrinkling
Wrinkling the forehead is often connected with
movement of the eyebrows, particularly upwards,
and hence acts as an amplifier of these
signals. Raised eyebrows (and wrinkled
forehead) indicates surprise or questioning.
Sweating
We often sweat more from the forehead than
other parts of the body, making it significant
in sending moisture-related signals.
Sweating can occur when we are hot, which can
come from external temperature, exercise and
also inner energy and arousal.
A cold sweat can indicate extreme fear and may
be accompanied by damp eyes.
Touching
Wiping the forehead can be to remove sweat. It
typically indicates relief and can be a
deliberate exaggeration. It can also indicate
fear, even when the person is not sweating.
Touching the forehead happens in the greeting
of a salute. This is effectively shading the
eyes and says 'You are so wonderful I am
dazzled by your brilliance.'
18
Slowly rubbing the forehead can indicate deep
thinking, as if the person was massaging their
brain to get it going.
Rubbing the temples either side can indicate
stress as the person tries to massage away the
actual or implicit headache.
The forehead may also be touched as a part of a
propping up the head, typically with the thumb
touching the side of the face.
Tapping the forehead with an open palm or light
fist says 'Gosh, how stupid I am!'
13. Hair body language
The hair is a part of the body and hence is
used in various ways for communication.
Appearance
Hair can be cut and shaped into a wide range of
styles which contributes to the overall image
and hence sends non-verbal signals.
A conventional and tidy cut indicates a
conventional person who follows basic social
rules.
Well-styled hair can indicate a desire to be
attractive and so get the approval and
admiration of others.
Men
Conventionally, men usually have a very limited
social style, with hair cut reasonably short.
Very short hair may signal aggression, perhaps
echoing army crew cuts. It has also been used
by 'skinheads' and is popular with club
bouncers and other 'heavies'.
Long male hair is typical of young 'drop-outs'
(or those who would like to, but cannot afford
it :). When unkempt it can show a lack of care
and perhaps lower self-esteem. Longer hair can
also be a sign of rebellion and assertion of
identity.
Women
Women are socially permitted to wear a much
wider range of styles, probably to attract men
(and compete with other women in this).
Long hair frames the face and may partially
cover it, teasing about the beauty behind this
curtain. Particularly when covering the eyes,
long hair over the face provides a barrier
behind which the woman can hide, perhaps when
she has lower confidence or self-esteem.
When women cut their hair short, it can
indicate a desire to be male, like a man or
perhaps to be unattractive to men. It may also
be a rebellion against womanhood, for example
when they have been mistreated by other women
when they were young.
Tossing
Tossing the head throws the hair backwards
(actually or virtually), drawing attention to
it. It can thus be a romantic gesture ('Hey,
guys, wouldn't you like to stroke my gorgeous
long, blonde hair!').
Throwing long hair back also exposes the face,
which may be an invitation, opening the doors
to communication. It can also be an aggressive
act as the person now gives you more unwanted
attention.
Touching
Stroking the hair is a preening gesture, which
can be deliberate checking that it is perfectly
coiffed or an invitation to stroke also.
Playing with the hair is particularly
flirtatious and invites the other person to do
this for you.
19
2.ARMS
1. Arm body language
The arm is an interesting appendages with a
ball at the top, a hinge in the middle, and
with a rather complex toolset at the end.
Watch also for arms held still -- this is often
the first place the deceiver starts when trying
to control body language (they may even hold
one arm with the other to keep them both
still).
Expanding
Arms are clever expanding devices that can make
us bigger or smaller, reaching out without
having to move the rest of our body.
They can extend towards the other person,
either in threat or a more friendly way. Moved
directly and quickly they threaten. Curved and
moving more slowly they may offer comfort.
The can also extend laterally, sometimes as a
part of a body-expanding 'I am big' display
that can signify confidence or perhaps
aggression.
Shaping
Arms are used as a part of shaping as we wave
them around and carve out the world. They are
an adjunct to our words as we literally show
other people how big the fish was or how small
the child is.
When we are excited or confident, we may wave
our arms about like windmills. When we are less
confident, our shaping is smaller and closer to
the body.
This waving of arms needs control and a person
who bangs their hand on something may indicate
clumsiness.
Raising
Raising the arms lifts something up. Done
rapidly, it throws things into the air. With
both arms, it exaggerates it further. A typical
two-arm-raising gesture is frustration, as
everything that is weighing the person down
with confusion is thrown up into the air.
Coupled with a shrug it indicates confusion ('I
don't know!!').
Weapon
Arms can be like weapons. They can symbolize
clubs and spears as they strike out at
imaginary foes. They can also be defensive,
blocking and sweeping away attacks. In martial
arts arms can be used to block and strike and
this is reflected in how they may be used in
communication.
Crossing
Arms can act as the doorway to the body and the
self. When they are crossed, they form a closed
defensive shield, blocking out the outside
world. Shields act in two ways: one is to block
incoming attacks and the other is a place
behind which the person can hide and perhaps
not be noticed.
Crossed arms may thus indicate anxiety which is
either driven by a lack of trust in the other
person or an internal discomfort and sense of
vulnerability (that may, for example, be rooted
in childhood trauma).
The extent of crossing indicates how firmly
closed the person is. This may range from a
light cross to arms folded to arms wrapped
around the person. An extreme version which may
indicate additional hostility is a tight close
with hands formed as fists. If legs are crossed
also then this adds to the signal.
The hands in an arm-cross may also be used to
hold the person in a reassuring self-hug, for
example holding upper arms in a folded-arms
position or wrapped around the torso, holding
the sides. If the thumbs are up, this may
indicate some approval or agreement with what
is being said.
Crossed arms, especially when holding one
another can show the person to be trying to
keep themselves still. This can be to suppress
any signals. It may also indicate repressed
anger (I have to hold myself to prevent myself
hitting you). In some cultures it also signals
that the person is holding themself still so
they can pay greater attention to you (and is
hence a compliment).
When arms are not crossed, they expose the
torso and the person, making them more
vulnerable. This signifies comfort that often
indicates trust. It can also be power position
that dares the other person to attack whilst
knowing that the other person dare not.
Crossed arms is a very obvious signal and if
you do it in front of other people they will
likely feel rejected and respond accordingly
(including not agreeing with you).
Note that not all crossed arms are defensive.
Sometimes folded arms, for example, are just a
relaxed position. Crossed arms are also used
when the person is cold (this is typically done
with hands tucked under armpits to keep them
warm).
A common method sales people use to break a
crossed-arms closed position is to give the
person something to hold or otherwise ask
them to use their hands.
Reaching forward
Reaching forward to the other person can be
quite scary for them as you could attack them,
20
and a sudden thrust forward can indeed be an
aggressive signal, especially if the hand is
pointing or shaped as a fist.
Reaching forward can also be an offer of
support or affection, seeking to touch and join
with the other person.
Pulling back
When arms are thrust forward, they are the
first thing that may be grabbed or attacked.
When a person feels defensive they may pull
back their arms out of harm's way.
signal part of
body
possible
meaning(s)
detailed
explanation
crossed
arms
(folded
arms)
arms defensivenes
s,
reluctance
Crossed arms
represent a
protective or
separating barrier.
This can be due to
various causes,
ranging from severe
animosity or
concern to mild
boredom or being
too tired to be
interested and
attentive. Crossed
arms is a commonly
exhibited signal by
subordinates
feeling threatened
by bosses and
figures of
authority. N.B.
People also cross
arms when they are
feeling cold, so be
careful not to
misread this
signal.
crossed
arms
with
clenche
d fists
arms hostile
defensivenes
s
Clenched fists
reinforce
stubbornness,
aggression or the
lack of empathy
indicated by
crossed arms.
grippin
g own
upper
arms
arms insecurity Gripping upper arms
while folded is
effectively self-
hugging. Self-
hugging is an
attempt to reassure
unhappy or unsafe
feelings.
one arm
across
body
claspin
g other
arm by
side
(female
)
arms nervousness Women use this
gesture. Men tend
not to. It’s a
‘barrier’
protective signal,
and also self-
hugging.
arms
held
behind
body
with
hands
clasped
arms confidence,
authority
As demonstrated by
members of the
royal family, armed
forces officers,
teachers,
policemen, etc.
handbag
held in
front
of body
(female
)
arms nervousness Another ‘barrier’
protective signal.
holding
papers
arms nervousness Another ‘barrier’
protective signal,
across
chest
(mainly
male)
especially when arm
is across chest.
adjusti
ng
cuff,
watchst
rap,
tie,
etc.,
using
an arm
across
the
body
arms nervousness Another ‘barrier’
protective signal.
arms/ha
nds
coverin
g
genital
region
(male)
arms /
hands
nervousness Another ‘barrier’
protective signal.
holding
a drink
in
front
of body
with
both
hands
arms /
hands
nervousness Another ‘barrier’
protective signal.
seated,
holding
drink
on one
side
with
hand
from
other
side
arms /
hands
nervousness One arm rests on
the table across
the body, holding a
drink (or pen,
etc). Another
‘barrier’
protective signal.
touchin
g or
scratch
ing
shoulde
r using
arm
across
body
arms /
shoulde
r
nervousness Another ‘barrier’
protective signal.
2. Elbow body language
When you think 'body language', the elbow is
not usually the first thing you think of, and
indeed there are less things they can say. The
lesser-noticed parts, however, should always be
watched, both individually and as a part of a
wider cluster.
Size
Elbows are often used as a central part of a
size display as we push them outwards as we
puff ourselves up to appear bigger larger than
we are (much as birds stand their feathers on
end).
Putting hands on the waist sends a stronger
signal. More subtle is simply to expand the
chest and push elbows slightly out.
This is usually done whilst standing and with
the body stationery (it is difficult to run
with elbows sticking out).
21
This can signify aggression, but may also be a
more relaxed attention-getting pose (look at
me!). This often is accompanied by a relaxed S-
shaped body curve, with one foot pointing
forward at the target person.
Weapon
For those who have struggled in big January
sales know (or any hurrying crowd for that
matter), elbows can make excellent weapons.
They are a pointed tool at the end of the
powerful upper arm and a jab in the ribs can
wind even a somewhat larger opponent.
In everyday language a symbolic strike towards
someone (without hitting them) says 'I feel
like hitting you' or 'I could hit you'. It thus
can be a suggestion to desist from some
undesirable behavior.
Prop
When seated, putting elbows on the table may
indicate a relaxed state. The head may thus be
propped up by cupped hands.
Pointer
We tend to point at people and things in which
we are interested in some way. The most obvious
way is with the finger. We also do it with
other parts of the body. One of the most subtle
and subconscious of these is the elbow.
3. Hand body language
Hands have 27 bones and are a very expressive
part of our anatomy. The give us enormous
capability as an evolved species in how we
handle our environment.
Reading palms is not just about the lines on
your hand. After the face, hands probably the
richest source of body language.
It is also worth noting that gestures with the
hands vary significantly across cultures and an
'innocent' hand signal can get you arrested in
another country.
A hand signal may be small, perhaps betraying
subconscious thinking. It may also be
exaggerated or done with both hands to
emphasize the point.
Holding
Cupped hands form a container which can hold
gently. Gripping hands can hold tightly. Hands
can hold both individually or together (giving
an exaggerated effect).
Cupped hands can symbolize delicacy or hold a
fragile idea. They may also be used for giving.
Gripping can show possessiveness, ownership and
desire (the tighter the fist, the stronger the
feeling).
Hands may also hold the self, such as when
people hold their own hands, typically for
comfort. Wringing the hands indicates more
extreme nervousness.
Holding the self can also be an act of
restraint. This can be to let the other person
talk. It can also be used when the person is
angry, effectively stopping them from
attacking.
The two hands can show different desires, for
example with one forming a fist and the other
holding it back, restraining the desire to
punch the other person.
Note also that people who are lying often try
to control their hands, and when they are kept
still (often holding one another), you might
get suspicious. Another sign can be holding
them behind the back. As ever, these are only
possible indicators and you should also look
for similar signs.
Hands may also be used to hold items such as
pens or cups, which may be used as comfort
objects, for example where a person hugs a cup
(the cup represents the person, so they are
effectively hugging themself). Holding an item
with two hands effectively creates a closed
position.
Holding imaginary objects as they are talked
about can show importance. Things which are
important (and perhaps with fear of loss) are
held close and tight. Things which are not
wanted are held further away (or even tossed
away).
Even ideas may be held. The bigger and more
important the idea, the wider the arms are
held. A common size is as if they are holding a
basketball -- this is useful as you can give it
to other people. A wide-armed hold may indicate
the whole world or something massive.
Items may also be for distracting activity that
releases nervous energy, such as fiddling with
a pen, clicking it on and off, or doodling with
it.
Control
A hand with palm down may figuratively hold or
restrain the other person. This can be an
authoritative action ('Stop that now') or may
be a request ('Please calm down'). This also
appears in the dominant hand-on-top handshake.
A palm facing outward towards others fends them
off or pushes them away in a more obvious way
than the palms-down signal ('Stop. Do not come
any closer!').
A pointing finger or whole hand tells a person
where to go ('Leave now!').
22
Greeting
Hands are often used in greetings. The most
common form of greeting is shaking hands, of
which there are many different forms.
This is one of the few times we are allowed to
touch the other person and it may get used to
send various signals.
Dominance is shown with hand on top, strength,
prolonged holding ('I decide when to let go')
and holding the person with the other hand.
Affection is shown with speed and duration of
shake, touching with the other hand and
enthusiastic smiles. The similarity between
dominant and affection handshakes leads to
tricky situations where a dominant person
pretends to be friendly.
Submission is shown with a floppy hand, palm up
and which is sometimes clammy and with a quick
withdrawal.
Most handshakes use vertical palms to show
equality, are firm without being crushing and
for a very exact period (so both know when to
let go).
Waving is also used for a greeting and may be
done at a distance.
Salutes are sometimes used, but mostly only in
the military, where their style is strictly
prescribed.
Shaping
Hands can carve the air, shaping what the
person is talking about or meaning. They can
thus create visual metaphors out of literally
nothing.
A man talking may shape a fish he caught. He
might also carve out the shape of his ideal
woman. Other gestures can shape more crudely,
indicating holding and moving sexually
significant body parts.
Cutting
The side of a flat hand can appear as a knife,
cutting the air like a karate chop. The cutting
hand may strike the other palm, creating visual
and aural impact.
A side-swiped cut with palm down tells others
to stop what they are doing, for example when a
person on stage asks the audience to stop
clapping so they can speak. A short side swipe
may also signal 'no' in any conversation.
Cuts can signal aggression, particularly when
coupled with an aggressive face. They may also
indicate decisiveness, chopping with each
point. A side-swiped cut can chop away someone
else's argument.
Striking
The hand can strike openly, with the palm or
closed as a fist. The fist can strike forwards,
sideways or downwards. One hand is often used
for symbols as two hands as fists can be an
invitation to fight (two hands held inwards can
also indicate extreme tension).
Fist shapes and movements are often symbols of
inner aggression. When moved towards a person,
even a small amount, they signal aggression
towards that person. A shaking fist signifies a
strong desire to strike someone. Punching the
air indicates triumphal excitement.
Covering
Hands can hide things. When people do not want
to hear something, they put hands to ears. When
they do not want to look, they cover their
eyes. When they want to say something but feel
restrained, they put their hands to their
mouth. A hand may also cover a rudely open
mouth, which may be opened in such as surprise
or a yawn.
Hands covering the mouth when speaking may be
an indicator of lying, although it may also
just indicate uncertainty.
Hands can cover other things. A hand to heart
may seek to protect it from shocking harm. A
hand to the groin may protect from dangerous
attack. Hands can also cover one another.
Sometimes a tense fist may be covered by the
other hand.
Giving
Outstretched palms may offer something to
another person. Held with palms faced towards
one another they might hold something large.
Held upwards they openly proffer an idea.
They may also show that nothing is being
concealed, giving what I have, which is
nothing.
A single offered hand is the start of the
handshake.
Asking
Palms offered upwards are a common plea
gesture, as if asking for alms. Palms downwards
may ask a person to calm down.
Palms up or at 45 degrees and then pulled
towards the body seeks to bring others closer
to you in an attenuated beckoning gesture.
Hands with palms pressed together indicate a
more anxious pleading. This gesture may be done
with fingers upwards in a clear prayer position
('Please do not harm me!'), and possibly thrust
towards the other person. With fingers pointing
down, this may be more concealed or a less
23
anxious desire for agreement. A variant of this
is to have fingers interleaved, but otherwise
making the same shape and movement.
Rubbing
Rubbing the hands together can mean that the
person is cold. It also means the person is
feeling particularly gleeful about something.
This can be a shared benefit and be used in a
conspiratorial way.
When they do this less obviously and more
slowly, they might thinking that they are going
to benefit at the expense of someone else.
Watch also for small smiles and defocused eyes
as they imagine a rosy future (at least for
them).
Rubbing the face and particularly the chin can
indicate thinking, evaluating and deciding.
When a part of the body is sore, the person may
rub it. This also happens when that part of the
body is tense, for example the neck or abdomen,
and can thus be a signal of anxiety.
Light stroking of the body can be a romantic
invitation, particularly if the erogenous areas
(or nearby) are touched. This says 'I would
like you to do this' and can be very arousing.
Thinking
When the fingers are pressed together forming a
steepled shape, pointing upwards, the person
may well be thinking, evaluating or deciding.
This may also be done with just index fingers
pressed together and other fingers interlinked
('the church'), with all finger-tips touching
('the cage') or with fingers interlinked.
The steepled position forms a barrier against
the other person and may be held lower when the
person wants to connect more, such as when they
are listening.
A subtler version of the evaluative position is
with the hand supporting the head but with the
index finger up the side the of the face. The
middle finger may cover the mouth ('I'm not
ready to talk yet').
These fingers-up positions may include touching
of the mouth or chin with the fingers, which
may indicate the person is thinking about
saying something but is not yet ready to speak
out loud.
The fingers may also be all intertwined and
typically held under the chin. Again, this is a
thinking and evaluating signal.
Hands clenched can be a self-restraining act,
effectively holding the person back from
speaking until they are ready.
Supporting
Hands may be used to support the head or even
the body when leaning.
Hands wrapped around the cheeks with elbows on
the table indicates a heavy head and the person
may be sleepy or bored. This may also be
indicated with a single hand propping up the
chin or side of the head.
The hands may also lightly support the head,
either as a single hand gently under the chin
or with fingers intertwined with elbows on
table and chin touching the fingers.
Particularly when looking at the other person,
this says 'look at my face, isn't it nice' and
may thus be an enticing position.
A simple rule is that the more that the head is
supported, the more the person is bored. When
they are interested in what others are saying,
support is light.
Hiding
Hands are often used in communication and
hiding the hands may indicate a desire not to
communicate or not to collaborate, saying 'I
don't want to talk with you' or 'I do not agree
with you'.
This may be done in a deliberate gesture of
defiance, such as stuffing hands in pockets.
Liars may hide their hands in fear that they
will give themselves away.
Hiding hands may also be a position of
listening, sending the message 'I do not want
to talk because I want to listen to you.'
Putting hands in pockets or behind the back can
also be due to just feeling relaxed and not
needing to talk.
Touching
The hand may touch any part of the body in a
whole range of situation.
Perhaps the most common reason for touching
oneself is self-affirmation ('I am here. I am
real. I am ok.') and related anxiety. Anxiety
can be related to concern for the outer world
or the inner world of thoughts and forecasts.
Touching is also used in romantic situations,
where parts of the body may be lightly touched
or stroked in simulation of desired or
suggested action by the other person. The more
erotic the parts being touched, the stronger
the signal is sent.
Touching can also be a form of punishment, for
example when a person slaps their head ('Bother
- I forgot!').
24
Touching the other person can be an act of
domination or of friendship, for example a hand
on the shoulder whilst telling them off adds
authority, whilst a gentle touch on the arm
when sympathizing demonstrates concern for
them.
Preening
Preening is a common action as the person
brushes their hair and clothes, figuratively
making themselves look more attractive and
sending the signal 'Aren't I beautiful!' This
is thus says 'Please like me' and may be a
romantic invitation, a signal of superiority or
indicate feelings of vulnerability.
Picking at bits of fluff clothes often shows
disapproval as the person figuratively picks
apart your argument.
Weighing
Cupped hands may be used to indicate weight,
which often is used as a metaphor for
importance.
Single-handed weighting bounces the cupped hand
up and down, for example when an argument is
being proposed.
Two hands are used to indicate discussion of A
vs. B. Watch which hands seems to hold the
heavier weight -- this will be the one which
the person thinks is most significant.
signal part of
body
possible
meaning(s)
detailed explanation
palm(s
) up
or
open
hands submissive
,
truthful,
honesty,
appealing
Said to evolve from
when open upward palms
showed no weapon was
held. A common gesture
with various meanings
around a main theme of
openness. Can also mean
“I don’t have the
answer,” or an appeal.
In some situations this
can indicate confidence
(such as to enable
openness), or
trust/trustworthiness.
An easily faked gesture
to convey innocence.
Outward open forearms
or whole arms are more
extreme versions of the
signal.
palm(s
) up,
finger
s
pointi
ng up
hands defensive,
instructio
n to stop
Relaxed hands are more
likely to be defensive
as if offered up in
protection; rigid
fingers indicates a
more authoritative
instruction or request
to stop whatever
behaviour is promoting
the reaction.
palm(s
) down
hands authority,
strength,
dominance
Where the lower arm
moves across the body
with palm down this is
generally defiance or
firm disagreement.
palm
up and
moving
hands striving
for or
seeking an
The hand is empty, but
figuratively holds a
problem or idea as if
up and
down
as if
weighi
ng
answer weighing it. The signal
is one of ‘weighing’
possibilities.
hand(s
) on
heart
(left
side
of
chest)
hands seeking to
be
believed
Although easy to fake,
the underlying meaning
is one of wanting to be
believed, whether being
truthful or not. Hand
on heart can be
proactive, as when a
salesman tries to
convince a buyer, or
reactive, as when
claiming innocence or
shock. Whatever, the
sender of this signal
typically feels the
need to emphasise their
position as if mortally
threatened, which is
rarely the case.
finger
pointi
ng (at
a
person
)
hands aggression
, threat,
emphasis
Pointing at a person is
very confrontational
and dictatorial.
Commonly adults do this
to young people. Adult
to adult it is
generally unacceptable
and tends to indicate a
lack of social
awareness or self-
control aside from
arrogance on the part
of the finger pointer.
The finger is thought
to represent a gun, or
pointed weapon.
Strongly associated
with anger, directed at
another person. An
exception to the
generally aggressive
meaning of finger
pointing is the finger
point and wink, below.
finger
point
and
wink
hands/
eyes
acknowledg
ement or
confirmati
on
The subtle use of a
winked eye with a
pointed finger changes
the finger point into a
different signal, that
of acknowledging
something, often a
contribution or remark
made by someone, in
which case the finger
and wink are directed
at the person
concerned, and can be a
signal of positive
appreciation, as if to
say, “You got it,” or
“You understand it,
well done”.
finger
pointi
ng (in
the
air)
hands emphasis Pointing in the air is
generally used to add
emphasis, by a person
feeling in authority or
power.
finger
waggin
g
(side
to
side)
hands warning,
refusal
Rather like the waving
of a pistol as a
threat. Stop it/do as
you are told, or else..
finger
waggin
g (up
and
down)
hands admonishme
nt,
emphasis
The action is like
pressing a button on a
keypad several times.
Like when a computer or
elevator won’t work, as
if pressing the button
lots of times will make
any difference..
hand
chop
hands emphasis -
especially
The hand is used like a
guillotine, as if to
25
the last
word on a
matter
kill the discussion.
finger
tips
and
thumbs
touchi
ng
each
other
on
opposi
te
hands
(’stee
pling’
)
hands thoughtful
ness,
looking
for or
explaining
connection
s or
engagement
Very brainy folk use
this gesture since it
reflects complex and/or
elevated thinking. In
this gesture only the
fingertips touch - each
finger with the
corresponding digit of
the other hand,
pointing upwards like
the rafters of a tall
church roof. Fingers
are spread and may be
rigidly straight or
relaxed and curved.
Alternating the
positions (pushing
fingers together then
relaxing again - like a
spider doing press-ups
on a mirror) enables
the fascinating effect
(nothing to do with
body language), which
after enough repetition
can produce a sensation
of having a greased
sheet of glass between
the fingers. Try it -
it’s very strange. Very
brainy people probably
don’t do this because
they have more
important things to
think about. It’s their
loss.
steepl
ed
finger
s
pointi
ng
forwar
d
hands thoughtful
ness and
barrier
The upwards-pointing
version tends to
indicate high-minded or
connective/complex
thinking, however when
this hand shape is
directed forward it
also acts as a
defensive or distancing
barrier between the
thinker and other(s)
present.
palms
down
moving
up and
down,
finger
s
spread
hands seeking or
asking for
calm, loss
of control
of a group
or
situation
Seen often in rowdy
meetings the gesture is
typically a few inches
above the table top,
but is also seen
standing up. The action
is one of suppressing
or holding down a
rising pressure.
Teachers use this
gesture when trying to
quieten a class.
cracki
ng
knuckl
es
hands comforting
habit,
attention-
seeking
Usually male. Machismo
or habit. Meaning
depends on context. No-
one knows still exactly
how the noise is made,
but the notion that the
practice leads to
arthritis is now
generally thought to be
nonsense.
interw
oven
clench
ed
finger
s
hands frustratio
n,
negativity
,
anxiousnes
s
Usually hands would be
on a table or held
across stomach or on
lap.
index
finger
and
thumb
touchi
ng at
tips
hands satisfacti
on, ‘OK’
This is generally seen
to be the ‘OK’ signal,
similar to the ‘thumbs
up’. The signal may be
to oneself quietly, or
more pronounced
directed to others.
There is also the sense
of this suggesting
something being ‘just
right’ as if the finger
and thumb are making a
fine adjustment with a
pinch of spice or a
tiny turn of a control
knob. The circle formed
by the joined finger
and thumb resembles the
O from OK. The
remaining three fingers
are spread.
thumb(
s) up
hands positive
approval,
agreement,
all well
In the Western world
this signal is so
commonly used and
recognized it has
become a language term
in its own right:
‘thumbs up’ means
approved. It’s a very
positive signal. Two
hands is a bigger
statement of the same
meaning.
thumbs
down
hands disapprova
l, failure
Logically the opposite
of thumbs up. Rightly
or wrongly the thumbs
up and down signals are
associated with the
gladiatorial contests
of the ancient Roman
arenas in which the
presiding dignitary
would signal the fate
of the losing
contestants.
hand
held
horizo
ntally
and
rocked
from
side
to
side
hands undecided,
in the
balance
Signalling that a
decision or outcome,
normally finely
balanced and difficult
to predict or control,
could go one way or
another.
rubbin
g
hands
togeth
er
hands anticipati
on, relish
A signal - often a
conscious gesture - of
positive expectation,
and often related to
material or financial
reward, or an enjoyable
activity and outcome.
hand(s
)
clampe
d over
mouth
hands /
mouth
suppressio
n, shock
See mouth/hand clamp
entry in mouth section,
which is a subject in
its own right.
touchi
ng
nose,
while
speaki
ng
hands /
nose
lying or
exaggerati
on
This is said to hide
the reddening of the
nose caused by
increased blood flow.
Can also indicate mild
embellishment or
fabrication. The
children’s story about
Pinocchio (the wooden
puppet boy whose nose
grew when he told lies)
reflects long-standing
associations between
the nose and telling
lies.
scratc
hing
nose,
while
speaki
ng
hands /
nose
lying or
exaggerati
on
Nose-scratching while
speaking is a warning
sign, unless the person
genuinely has an itchy
nose. Often exhibited
when recounting an
event or incident.
pinchi
ng or
rubbin
g
nose,
hands /
nose
thoughtful
ness,
suppressin
g comment
In many cases this is
an unconscious
signalling of holding
back or delaying a
response or opinion.
 Synthesis
 Synthesis
 Synthesis
 Synthesis
 Synthesis
 Synthesis
 Synthesis
 Synthesis
 Synthesis
 Synthesis
 Synthesis

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Synthesis

  • 1. 1 TABLE OF CONTENTS Head 1. Head body language...................2 2. Face body language...................4 3. Cheek body language..................5 4. Chin body language...................6 5. Mouth body language..................6 6. Lips body language...................9 7. Teeth body language.................10 8. Tongue body language................11 9. Nose body language..................11 10. Eyes body language...............12 11. Eyebrow body language............17 12. Forehead body language..............17 13. Hair body language..................18 Arms We often talk with our arms, windmilling as we describe with arms and hands what we are saying. 1. Arm body language..................19 2. Elbow body language................20 3. Hand body language.................21 4. Finger body language...............26 Torso The torso, though often ignored, contains the main mass of the body and can give important signals. 1. Neck body language.................28 2. Shoulder body language.............28 3. Chest body language................29 4. Back body language.................30 5. Belly body language................30 6. Bottom body language...............31 7. Hips body language.................31 Legs The legs often betray body language when the person is trying to control their body (and often forget the lower half). Particularly when seated, if you can look down you may find another story. 1. Leg body language..................32 2. Thigh body language................34 3. Knee body language.................35 4. Foot body language.................35 GENERAL..................................36
  • 2. 2 1.HEAD 1. Head body language The head can send such a wide range of signals that the face and other parts of the head are covered in other pages. Here, we focus just on movement of the head as affected by the neck muscles. Lowering A lowered head covers the neck with the chin and hence can be a defensive posture that can occur as a result of any perceived threat (not just physical threat). Lowering the head also lowers the eyes and hence can be a sign of submission, effectively saying 'I dare not even look at you'. The eyes are typically also lowered here. It can be driven by affection ('you are so wonderful') or fear ('you might hurt me if I look at you'). Lowering the head whilst maintaining eye contact can also be a strong flirting signal, typically by women. It says 'You are superior and I just can't take my eyes off you'. It can also be a sign of defiance or caution, for example when showing respect to an enemy ('You are strong and I do not trust you'). Sometimes, lowering the head is just a sign of exhaustion. The head is rather heavy and a tired person's head will sag. Lowering the head can be a part of ducking as the person reflexively pulls the head down to avoid a real or imagined hazard. This makes the body smaller and protects the neck. A single short lowering of the head can be an abbreviated nod. This is a common greeting, perhaps as a small bow. It may also be a signal of power ('I am so powerful people are paying will notice even a small nod'). Again it may be a deliberate concealment, sending covert agreement to a colleague. Raising When the head is low, raising it may be a sign of interest as the person moved to looking at the point of interest. This is typically accompanied by other expressions of interest such as raised eyebrows. From a level position, a quick flick upwards can be a sign of query ('What do you mean?'). Raising the head and looking at the ceiling may signal boredom. It may also indicate a visual thinker who is looking at internal images. Another alternative is where a person wants to focus on the sound and is thus averting the eyes in order to concentrate on the sound. Tilting Tilting the head sideways can be a sign of interest, which may be in what is said or happening. It can also be a flirting signal as it says 'I am interested in you!' Tilting can similarly indicate curiosity, uncertainty or query, particularly if the head is pushed forward, as if the person was trying to look at the subject in a different way in the hope of seeing something new. The greater the tilt, the greater the uncertainty or the greater the intent to send this signal. A tilted head pulled back tends to indicate suspicion, as the uncertainty of the tilt is combined with a defensive pulling back. The tilted head exposes the carotid artery on the side of the neck and may be a sign of submission and feelings of vulnerability. If the head is propped up by the hand, it may be tiredness or an expectation of continued interest ('This is so interesting!'). Oscillating (nodding and shaking) Nodding up and down signals agreement in most cultures and may well be accompanied by smiling and other signs of approval. A vigorous nodding probably indicates strong agreement, whilst slow nodding may indicate conditional agreement (and so may be questioned if you want full agreement). Turning the head from side to side usually indicates disagreement or disapproval and may originate in infant refusal of food. Again, speed of swinging indicates strength of feeling. A head tilted down whilst swinging may signal particular disapproval ('I don't even want to look at you'). Alternately tilting the head at an angle to each side can say 'I'm not sure', though in Southern India it means 'Yes'. Nodding or shaking the head whilst talking is an encouragement for the other person to agree (which works surprisingly often). Nodding whilst the other person is talking sends approval signals and encourages them to keep talking. Shaking the head shows disagreement and they may either stop and seek your view or redouble their attempts to persuade you. A nod can be used when emphasizing a point. The may range from a subtle encouragement to agree to a rapid and aggressive tilt. A short, sharp nod can symbolize a head-butt, indicating the desire to strike the other person (this may be in emphasis or for other reasons).
  • 3. 3 Shaking the head when saying something positive is a negative signal and may indicate the person does not believe what they are saying. Rotating Rotation of the head in a circle is a relatively rare gesture and may just be the person exercising a stiff neck (if they should be paying attention, this may thus indicate boredom). Turning the head away removes attention and thus may say 'I do not want to communicate with you'. This can be very insulting as it denies the existence of the other person. Turning the head slightly to the side points the ear at the other person, perhaps better to hear them. This is usually accompanied by continued eye contact and the hand may be cupped behind the ear. A slight head turn also puts one eye in the middle of your head as the other person sees it. To make eye contact they thus have to focus on one eye. This can be very disconcerting and this 'one-eye' gaze may be used as an act of dominance (It may also be used in the act of 'giving the evil eye'). A slight rotation on top of oscillation may indicate incomplete agreement or disagreement, for example where a nod has a slight additional side-to-side movement, indicating primary or external agreement but with a certain amount of disagreement too (which may be significant if they feel coerced into agreement). Pointer We tend to point at people and things in which we are interested in some way. Pointing the head and face at another person shows interest in them. In groups and meetings, you can often see power people as others often look at them. Likewise, the less significant people are not looked at often. We can also point with a twitch of the head in any given direction. Pointing at a person in this way without looking can be insulting and can be subtle, for example where you do not want the indicated person is being pointed at. Touching We can touch the head in many places. Touching the face is a common sign of anxiety and people tend to have preferred places they touch or stroke when they are concerned. This is a classic pattern that poker players look for in other players as signs of having good or bad hands. Covering eyes, ears or mouth may say we do not want to see, hear or say something. We may touch the side of the nose or stroke the chin when we are thinking, making decisions and judging others. Tapping the head can be self-punishment and hence signal regret, for example tapping the forehead with the heel of the hand ('I'm stupid!'). Note that, depending on context, this can also be a signal that somebody else is considered stupid. The head is heavy and when tired we may prop it up, either under the chin or at the side. Boredom makes us tired so propping the head may indicate this. Propping up the head also happens when a person is thinking or evaluating. In some cultures, the head is considered the part of the body that is most spiritual. Touching the head can be considered wrong in such contexts. signal possible meanings detailed explanation head noddin g agreement Head nodding can occur when invited for a response, or voluntarily while listening. Nodding is confusingly and rather daftly also referred to as ‘head shaking up and down’. Head nodding when talking face- to-face one-to-one is easy to see, but do you always detect tiny head nods when addressing or observing a group? slow head noddin g attentive listening This can be a faked signal. As with all body language signals you must look for clusters of signals rather than relying on one alone. Look at the focus of eyes to check the validity of slow head nodding. fast head noddin g hurry up, impatienc e Vigorous head nodding signifies that the listener feels the speaker has made their point or taken sufficient time. Fast head nodding is rather like the ‘wind-up’ hand gesture given off-camera or off-stage by a producer to a performer, indicating ‘time’s up - get off’. head held up neutralit y, alertness High head position signifies attentive listening, usually with an open or undecided mind, or lack of bias. head held high superiori ty, fearlessn ess, arrogance Especially if exhibited with jutting chin. head tilted to one side non- threateni ng, submissiv e, thoughtfu lness A signal of interest, and/or vulnerability, which in turn suggests a level of trust. Head tilting is thought by some to relate to ’sizing up’ something, since tilting the head changes the perspective offered by the eyes, and a different view is seen of the other person or subject. Exposing the neck is also a sign of trust. head forwar d, uprigh t interest, positive reaction Head forward in the direction of a person or other subject indicates interest. The rule also applies to a forward leaning upper body, commonly sitting, but also standing, where the movement can be a distinct and significant
  • 4. 4 advancement into a closer personal space zone of the other person. Head forward and upright is different to head tilted downward. head tilted downwa rd criticism , admonishm ent Head tilted downwards towards a person is commonly a signal of criticism or reprimand or disapproval, usually from a position of authority. head shakin g disagreem ent Sideways shaking of the head generally indicates disagreement, but can also signal feelings of disbelief, frustration or exasperation. Obvious of course, but often ignored or missed where the movement is small, especially in groups seemingly reacting in silent acceptance. pronou nced head shakin g strong disagreem ent The strength of movement of the head usually relates to strength of feeling, and often to the force by which the head-shaker seeks to send this message to the receiver. This is an immensely powerful signal and is used intentionally by some people to dominate others. head down (in respon se to a speake r or propos ition) negative, disintere sted Head down is generally a signal of rejection (of someone’s ideas etc), unless the head is down for a purpose like reading supporting notes, etc. Head down when responding to criticism is a signal of failure, vulnerability (hence seeking protection), or feeling ashamed. head down (while perfor ming an activi ty) defeat, tiredness Lowering the head is a sign of loss, defeat, shame, etc. Hence the expressions such as ‘don’t let your head drop’, and ‘don’t let your head go down’, especially in sports and competitive activities. Head down also tends to cause shoulders and upper back to to slump, increasing the signs of weakness at that moment. chin up pride, defiance, confidenc e Very similar to the ‘head held high’ signal. Holding the chin up naturally alters the angle of the head backwards, exposing the neck, which is a signal of strength, resilience, pride, resistance, etc. A pronounced raised chin does other interesting things to the body too - it tends to lift the sternum (breast-bone), which draws in air, puffing out the chest, and it widens the shoulders. These combined effects make the person stand bigger. An exposed neck is also a sign of confidence. ‘Chin up’ is for these reasons a long- standing expression used to encourage someone to be brave. active listen ing attention , interest, attractio n When people are listening actively and responsively this shows in their facial expression and their head movements. The head and face are seen to respond fittingly and appropriately to what is being said by the speaker. Nodding is relevant to what is being said. Smiles and other expressions are relevant too. The head may tilt sideways. Mirroring of expressions may occur. Silences are used to absorb meaning. The eyes remain sharply focused on the eyes of the speaker, although at times might lower to look at the mouth, especially in male-female engagements. 2. Face body language The face has around 90 muscles in it, with about 30 of these purely for expressing emotion. It can thus be used to send many non- verbal signals, using its various features in concert. Color Red A generally red face may indicate that the person is hot as the blood come to the to surface to be cooled. They may heat up either from exercise or emotional arousal, for example when they are excited and energized. A red face is typical of a person who is angry. This is a clear danger signal, warning the other person that they may be harmed if they do not back down. People blush with embarrassment in various ways. Some people's neck goes red. With others it is mostly the cheeks. Sometimes the whole face goes red. White White skin may be a sign of coldness as the blood goes deep to avoid cooling further. White skin is also an indication of fear, often extreme. This happens as the blood abandons a surface that might be cut, going to muscles where its power is needed more. Blue The skin can also take on a bluish tinge. This can also indicate coldness or extreme fear. Moisture Sweating is the body's natural cooling mechanism when it gets hot, possibly from excitement and emotional arousal. Sweat is also associated with fear, perhaps to make the skin slippery and hence prevent an opponent from taking a firm grasp. Emotions Here are some of the facial signals that you might see for different emotions. Do note that these are only possible indicators: not all signals are needed and not all signals
  • 5. 5 indicated here necessarily indicate the associated emotion. Emotion Facial signals Anxiety Eyes damp; eyebrows slightly pushed together; trembling lower lip; chin possibly wrinkled; head slightly tilted down. Fear Eyes wide, closed or pointing down; raised eyebrows; mouth open or corners turned down; chin pulled in; head down, white face. Anger Eyes wide and staring; eyebrows pulled down (especially in middle); wrinkled forehead; flared nostrils; mouth flattened or clenched teeth bared; jutting chin, red face. Happiness Mouth smiling (open or closed); possible laughter; crows-feet wrinkles at sides of sparkling eyes; slightly raised eyebrows; head level. Sadness Eyes cast down and possibly damp or tearful; head down; lips pinched; head down or to the side. Envy Eyes staring; mouth corners turned down; nose turned in sneer; chin jutting. Desire Eyes wide open with dilated pupils; slightly raised eyebrows; lips slightly parted or puckered or smiling; head tilted forward. Interest Steady gaze of eyes at item of interest (may be squinting); slightly raised eyebrows; lips slightly pressed together; head erect or pushed forward. Boredom Eyes looking away; face generally immobile; corners of mouth turned down or lips pulled to the side; head propped up with hand. Surprise Eyes wide open; eyebrows raised high; mouth dropped wide open with consequent lowered chin; head held back or tilted to side. Relief Eyebrows tilted outwards (lowered outer edges); mouth either tilted down or smiling; head tilted. Disgust Eyes and head turned away; nostrils flared; nose twisted in sneer; mouth closed, possibly with tongue protruding; chin jutting. Shame Eyes and head turned down; eyebrows held low; skin blushing red. Pity Eyes in extended gaze and possibly damp; eyebrows slightly pulled together in middle or downwards at edges; mouth turned down at corners; head tilted to side. Calm Relaxed facial muscles and steady gaze with eyes. Perhaps mouth turned up slightly at sides in gentle smile. 3. Cheek body language Cheeks can speak body language, although admittedly not very much. In-out Cheeks can be drawn in or blown out. When pulled in and particularly when linked with pursed lips, it indicates disapproval. Cheeks sucked in to the extent that the lower lips curl can indicate pensiveness which may be uncomfortable (look also for a furrowed brow). When cheeks are blown out, this can signify uncertainty as to what to do next (watch also for raised eyebrows and rounded eyes). This may be exaggerated by the person actually blowing air from their mouth ('Pfoof - what do I do now??'). Blown out cheeks can also be a sign of exhaustion. If the person has been exercising the face may also be red and sweaty. Redness Red cheeks is a classic sign of embarrassment. Watch for them becoming red (some people just have natural red cheeks). Red cheeks may also be a sign of anger. Watch here for other anger signs, such as enlarged and staring eyes. Cheeks pale when blood drains from them. This typically happens when a person is frightened as the blood is moved to the muscles in readiness to flee. Pale cheeks can also be a sign of coldness. Internal Chewing the inside of the cheek or mouth can be a hidden sign of nervousness and may indicate lying. Pushing the tongue into the cheek can show pensiveness as the person thinks about something and tries to come to a decision.
  • 6. 6 Touching The cheek is a wide area that can be touched without obscuring any of the functional organs. Touching the cheek is often done in surprise or horror. A light touch, along with an open mouth that says 'Oooh' indicate light surprise. Touching both cheeks with the flat of the palm is an exaggeration of this and may indicate horror. 4. Chin body language The chin, as with other corners of the face, has its own body language. Protecting The chin is vulnerable when fists are flying as a good upper-cut punch can knock you out. Even more vulnerable than the chin is the throat, where a predator might try to asphyxiate you or worse. Holding in the chin protects both it and the throat, and hence is a naturally defensive move that people use when they feel threatened. Holding the chin in also lowers the head, which is a submissive gesture. This is distinct from the defensive move as the head tilts down more and the eyes are often largely downcast. This can similarly be a shy or flirting gesture. Jutting The chin can be used as a subtle pointing device and a small flick of the head may give a small signal that only people in the know are likely to notice. Jutting out the chin towards a person exposes it and says 'Go on, I dare you, try to hit me and see what happens!' This can thus be a signal of defiance, if not towards the other person then instead towards some situation or person in the conversation. Jutting may also exposes the teeth and is a thus a threat to bite which may be added to an aggressive display. Pointing at a person with the finger is a threatening act. Doing it briefly with the chin is more covert and can thus be an insult. Touching Stroking the chin is often a signal that the person is thinking hard. They may well be judging or evaluating something, particularly if the conversation has offered them a choice or decision to make. The head is a heavy object and is often propped up by holding the chin in a cupped hand, particularly when the person is tired and it may drop. Boredom can make you sleepy and a hand under the chin may be done to stop an embarrassing drop of the head. Holding the chin also prevents the head from moving and can signal that the person wants to send a head signal but simultaneously does not want to send the signal, for example when they emotionally agree and want to nod, but intellectually want more information so they can have good reason before they say yes. Beard Beards and moustaches are sometimes controversial items, particularly in cultures where being clean-shaven is the norm. A beard may thus be an indicator of a non-conformist. A full beard is more likely to indicate a person who has no vanity needs and is confident and relaxed as they are. When the beard is shaped and neatly clipped, it may indicate a more vain and fussy person who is particular about how they appear and what they do. An unkempt beard that is left to grow wild may indicate an untidy mind or simply that the person is lazy. It may also point to a person for whom external appearance is unimportant, such as a university intellectual. Stroking a beard can be a preening gesture, symbolically making oneself look beautiful and hence sending 'I'm gorgeous' signals. 5. Mouth body language Generally speaking body orifices are not terribly desirable as they can cause problems such as being entries for disease or can be snagged on passing bushes. The mouth is perhaps the ultimate multi-function orifice as we use it for communicating, breathing and eating. Emoting The mouth is involved in the expression of many different emotions, from happiness to sadness, from fear to disgust. In emoting, the lips play a major role in creating visible shapes, with able backup from the teeth and tongue. Breathing We usually breath through the nose, but when we need more oxygen we use the mouth to gulp in greater amounts of air. A person who is frightened or angry by the fight-or-flight reaction may well open their mouth to get more oxygen in preparation for combat or running away. This may also involve breathing faster (panting). A hot person also pants hard. With typical the red face, this can be mistaken for anger (or vice versa). Yawning is a process of taking a deep gulp of air as a quick 'pick-me-up' and often indicate a person who is tired or bored.
  • 7. 7 A short, deep, exhaling sigh, can indicate sadness, frustration or boredom. Short inhalation, particularly in a sequence, can be like silent sobs and hence be an indicator of deep and suppressed sadness. Slow, deep breathing, sometimes with slightly parted lips, may indicate someone who is relaxing or meditating. With closed eyes, they are seldom aware of what is going on around them and this may be done as an escape. Speaking The mouth sends additional signals when it is speaking. If the mouth moves little, perhaps including incoherent mumbling, this may indicate an unwillingness to speak, for example from shyness or from a fear of betraying themselves. A mouth that moves a lot during speech can indicate excitement or dominance as it sends clear signals that 'I am speaking, do not interrupt!' Careful shaping of words can also indicate a person with auditory preferences or a concern for precision and neatness. Fast speakers are often visual thinkers who are trying to get out what they are seeing. They may also be looking upwards. Slow speakers may be deep thinkers who are being careful about finding the right words. They may also have an auditory preference as they carefully enunciate each word. Eating The mouth is also used for eating, and the way people eat can tell things about them. A well-mannered person opens their mouth the minimum to put in a moderate amount of food and keeps it closed whilst carefully chewing each mouthful. They also do not speak when they have food in their mouth. On the other hand, an uncouth person gobbles large mouthfuls and opens their mouth as they chew and talk at the same time. In a curious reversal, snobbish gourmands who take great pleasure in eating may do it noisily as an expression of pleasure. This may also be a cultural variable and in some places noisy eating is not only acceptable but also desirable. People who chew smaller amounts at the front of their mouth are like children whose molars have not developed and may be timid. People who chew for a longer time may be chewing on ideas at the same time. When people slide their jaw sideways when they eat are grinding the food. this may also be pensive. Drinking As with eating, drinking may be done in a polite way, sipping smaller amounts and swallowing noiselessly. It may also be done with loud glugging and followed by equally distasteful burping -- although again, in some cultures this is a desirable expression of pleasure. Someone who is slooshing their drink around their mouth may well be thinking and deciding. Covering Sometimes the hand is used to cover the mouth. In polite society, exposing the inside of your mouth may be considered rude, so the hand is used to politely cover a yawn. The hand is also used to conceal the mouth when it will betray emotions that may be undesirable. Thus we put our hands over impolite giggles and smirks. This may also be a reason for hiding a yawn. We also cover the open mouth of surprise and the downturned mouth of sadness. Smiling Smiling indicates pleasure, either that you are generally happy and are enjoying the other person's company or that you are amused by something in particular, such as a joke. A full smile engages the whole face, particularly including the eyes, which crease and 'twinkle'. Smiling with lips only is often falsehood, where the smiler wants to convey pleasure or approval but is actually feeling something else. This false smile is known as the Duchenne smile, after the scientists who first described it in 1862. False smiles also tend to last for longer. A genuine smile is often asymmetric and usually larger on the right side of the face. A false smile may be more symmetrical or larger on the left side of the face. Lowering the jaw to show a D-shaped mouth can be a false smile as it is easy to do. It may also be a deliberate signal of amusement and and an invitation to laugh. Smiling without opening the mouth, and particularly with lips firmly pressed together, may indicate embarrassment about unsightly teeth. It may also be a suppression of words
  • 8. 8 ('I can see the funny side, but I'm not going to comment.'). A half-smile, on one side of the face, may indicate cynicism, sarcasm or uncertainty ('Sorry, I don't buy that idea.'). Smiling is also a sign of submission as the person effectively says 'I am nice and not a threat'. Smiling in some cultures indicates a question or that you want the other person to speak. Laughing Beyond smiling, laughter shows greater pleasure and happiness. Whilst smiling may happen over a longer period, laughter is a relatively brief affair, happening for a few seconds. There are many variants on laughter and we all laugh differently, from the suppressed titter to the loud and uproarious belly-laugh. Louder and less suppressed laughter may indicate someone who is less self-conscious. It may also be used by a person who is trying to gain attention. In general, women laugh at men they like whilst men like women who laugh at them ('It's working! She likes me.'). This can lead to a satisfying bonding mechanism. 'Funny' often gets equated to 'nice' and 'harmless' and the use of humor thus can a way of sending friendship signals. Laughing at risqué jokes is a sign of acceptance of the other person (the alternative is to criticize or otherwise censure them). Laughing and smiling at the misfortune of others is often socially unacceptable although we often find this funny (Germans call this 'schadenfreude'). In such cases you may see suppressed grins and giggles as the person tries desperately to hide their feeling of amusement. Laughs, for example may get disguised as coughs and the person may turn away to hide their expression. Yawning Yawning is opening the mouth wide and gulping in a large quantity of air. We do it when we are tired and blood oxygen is low. Boredom can indicated by yawning, signalling that the other person is so uninteresting they are sending us to sleep, which makes it often impolite (also because it shows the inside of the body). This results often in the yawn being covered with the hand or concealed such as by turning the head or holding the mouth more closed than it actually want to be. The gulping of air in yawning can also be in preparation for action and a stressed person may yawn more, or at least take some bigger breaths. signal part of body possible meaning(s ) detailed explanation pasted smile mout h faked smile A pasted smile is one which appears quickly, is fixed for longer than a natural smile, and seems not to extend to the eyes. This typically indicates suppressed displeasure or forced agreement of some sort. tight- lipped smile mout h secrecy or withheld feelings Stretched across face in a straight line, teeth concealed. The smiler has a secret they are not going to share, possibly due to dislike or distrust. Can also be a rejection signal. twiste d smile mout h mixed feelings or sarcasm Shows opposite emotions on each side of the face. droppe d-jaw smile mout h faked smile More of a practised fake smile than an instinctive one. The jaw is dropped lower than in a natural smile, the act of which creates a smile. smile - head tilted , lookin g up mout h playfulne ss, teasing, coy Head tilted sideways and downwards so as to part hide the face, from which the smile is directed via the eyes at the intended target. bottom lip juttin g out mout h upset Like rubbing eyes can be an adult version of crying, so jutting or pushing the bottom lip forward is a part of the crying face and impulse. Bear in mind that people cry for reasons of genuine upset, or to avert attack and seek sympathy or kind treatment. laught er mout h relaxatio n Laughter deserves a section in its own right because its such an interesting area. In terms of body language genuine laughter is a sign of relaxation and feeling at ease. Natural laughter can extend to all the upper body or whole body. The physiology of laughter is significant. Endorphins are released. Pain and stress reduces. Also vulnerabilities show and can become more visible because people’s guard drops when laughing. forced laught er mout h nervousne ss, cooperati on Unnatural laughter is often a signal of nervousness or stress, as an effort to dispel tension or change the atmosphere. Artificial laughter is a signal of cooperation and a wish to maintain empathy. biting lip mout h tension One of many signals suggesting tension or stress, which can be due to high concentration, but more likely to be anxiousness.
  • 9. 9 teeth grindi ng mout h tension, suppressi on Inwardly-directed ‘displacement’ sign, due to suppression of natural reaction due to fear or other suppressant. chewin g gum mout h tension, suppressi on As above - an inwardly- directed ‘displacement’ sign, due to suppression of natural reaction. Otherwise however can simply be to freshen breath, or as a smoking replacement. smokin g mout h self- comfortin g Smoking obviously becomes habitual and addictive, but aside from this people put things into their mouths because it’s comforting like thumb- sucking is to a child, in turn rooted in baby experiences of feeding and especially breastfeeding. chewin g pen or pencil mout h self- comfortin g Like smoking and infant thumbsucking. The pen is the teat. Remember that next time you chew the end of your pen… pursin g lips mout h thoughtfu lness, or upset As if holding the words in the mouth until they are ready to be released. Can also indicate anxiousness or impatience at not being able to speak. Or quite differently can indicate upset, as if suppressing crying. tongue poke mout h / tong ue disapprov al, rejection The tongue extends briefly and slightly at the centre of the mouth as if tasting something nasty. The gesture may be extremely subtle. An extreme version may be accompanied by a wrinkling of the nose, and a squint of the eyes. hand clampe d over mouth mout h / hand s suppressi on, holding back, shock Often an unconscious gesture of self- regulation - stopping speech for reasons of shock, embarrassment, or for more tactical reasons. The gesture is reminiscent of the ’speak no evil’ wise monkey. The action can be observed very clearly in young children when they witness something ‘unspeakably’ naughty or shocking. Extreme versions of the same effect would involve both hands. nail biting mout h / hand s frustrati on, suppressi on Nail-biting is an inwardly-redirected aggression borne of fear, or some other suppression of behaviour. Later nail- biting becomes reinforced as a comforting habit, again typically prompted by frustration or fear. Stress in this context is an outcome. Stress doesn’t cause nail- biting; nail-biting is the outward demonstration of stress. The cause of the stress can be various things (stressors). See the stress article for more detail about stress. 6. Lips body language Lips can say a lot of things without words. Our muscles around them mean we can shape them with incredibly fine control. Lipstick is used to draw attention to the lips, thus exaggerating further the signals sent by them. Parted Lips which are slightly parted can be a strong flirting signal, particularly if the lips are then licked and even more so if done whilst holding the gaze of another person. Parting lips is the first stage in speaking and may thus be a signal that the person wants to talk. Pursed Lips which are pulled inwards from all directions are an indication of tension and may indicate frustration or disapproval. Pursed lips are a classic sign of anger, including when it is suppressed. It is effectively holding the mouth shut to prevent the person saying what they feel like saying. Puckered A light puckering of the lips into a kiss shape typically indicates desire. It can also indicate uncertainty, particularly if the lips are touched with the fingers. When you say 'oo', the lips form the kiss shape. This is one reason that romantic songs often linger on words like 'you' and 'too'. Flattened Lips which are kept horizontal but squeezed flat are an exaggerated closing of the mouth and hence indicate a repressed desire to speak. This indicate disapproval ('If I spoke I would be very critical, which I do not want to be'). It can also indicate frustration ('I want to speak, but others are speaking and I feel I should wait'). Flattened lips can also indicate a refusal to eat, either because of dislike of offered food or some other motivation. Turned up When the corners of the mouth are turned upwards, this can be a grimace of disgust or a smile of pleasure. In a grimace, the teeth are unlikely to be shown (although toothless smiles are also common). Grimaces are often flatter and tenser.
  • 10. 10 A full smile engages the whole face, particularly including the eyes. Smiling with lips only is often falsehood, where the smiler wants to convey pleasure or approval but is actually feeling something else. Turned down Corners of the mouth turned down indicates sadness or displeasure. Some people are so miserable so often, this is the natural state of rest of their mouths (which is perhaps rather sad). Retracted When the lips are pulled back, they expose the teeth. This may be in a broad smile or it may be a snarl of aggression. The eyes should tell you which is which. In a snarl, the eyes are either narrowed or staring. In a full smile, the corners of the eyes are creased. Moving Lips which are moving in the shape of words but without making sounds means that the person is thinking of saying the words. This subvocalization often happens with very small movement and is often completely subconscious. Stage mentalists use this when they ask their 'victims' to think hard of a word and then lip- read as they silently sound the word. Up and down movement may indicate chewing. Some people chew the insides of their mouths when they are nervous. Rolling in the lips so they roll across one another can be a preening gesture for women, evening out lipstick. It can also be a sign of uncertainty or disapproval (look for accompanying lowered eyebrows). Twitching Small, lightning-fast movements of the mouth betray inner thoughts, for example a single twitch of the corner of the mouth that indicates cynicism or disbelief. Liars in particular will often give themselves away with very brief grimaces as their conscience expresses disapproval of the conscious lies. Protruding When the top lip is over the bottom lip, this may be linked with biting of the bottom lip, a common indicator that the person is feeling guilty about something. The bottom lip extended over the top lip can indicate uncertainty, as if the person is saying 'umm'. The bottom lip jutting out is often a part of a sulky pout, where the person expresses child- like petulance at not getting their own way. Both lips pressed together and pushed out generally indicates doubt. If the finger touches them, it may indicate internal thinking or may say 'I am considering speaking but am not quite ready to talk yet'. Biting Biting the lip, centrally or at the side, is often a sign of anxiety. Usually, this is the bottom lip (especially if the person has overhanging top teeth). This may be a habitual action and people who do this, will often repeat the move in predictable situations. This is a fairly child-like action, especially if accompanied by wide eyes and eyebrows raised in the middle and lowered at the sides, and thus may betray concern about being told off or otherwise being censured in the manner of a child. Relaxed Finally, the lips will have a position of rest when they are not pulled in any direction. This usually indicates that the person is also feeling relaxed. 7. Teeth body language There's not a lot of body language with teeth, but this is a complete section, so here's details. Biting Teeth are made to bite, tear and grind. Exposing the teeth in a snarl is saying 'I am thinking of biting you' and is hence a primitive and potentially scary threat. Actual biting is rare, but indicates the person has been reduced to a base position and is probably not thinking rationally. Biting can also be affectionate, for example where lovers chew the other person's lip or ear. This can create arousal from the basic fear instinct but the person knows from the context that they are not in danger and hence reframes the arousal as pleasure. Gentle biting also stimulates nerve receptors and is thus similar to touch. Young animals at play pretend to bite one another as they prepare for adulthood. When people play with friends they may also expose their teeth.
  • 11. 11 Smiling Exposing the teeth in smiling tends to indicate extreme pleasure. People who are self-conscious and particularly if their teeth are not that attractive may try not to show their teeth when smiling. Noise Teeth can make a noise when banged or slid together. Chattering teeth may indicate extreme fear and is usually accompanied by shaking of the body. This may also indicate extreme coldness. Grinding teeth can indicate suppressed anger or frustration as the person tensely tries not to speak. Light tapping of the teeth can be mild frustration or thinking (it is similar in effect to tapping of a finger). As with other repetitive action, teeth noise can also just be habit. Tapping Sometimes people tap their teeth with their nails, making a noise that echoes in the mouth. This can signal thinking or boredom. It may also be a deliberate interruption or irritant, although this is less likely. 8. Tongue body language The tongue is normally important in spoken body language. In practice it can also send some body language non-verbal signals. Sticking out A deliberate gesture of sticking out the tongue at a person is impolite, although considered rather childish and thus reflects as much on the person doing it. The gesture thus appears petulant unless it is done in an amusingly cheeky way. The rest of the face should indicate more of the intent. Cheeky tongue- poking is often followed by a smile or laughter. Sticking out the tongue also can happen when the person is trying hard to do something. When this happens it traditionally appears at the side of the mouth. When people are talking in romantic setting, sticking out the tongue can be a sign of lust. Licking The tongue can be used to lick. By oneself, pretty much the only thing the tongue can lick is the lips (although a more hidden way of this is licking the teeth). Lip-licking may indicate desire, perhaps for another person and perhaps for food. Usually it is for what is in front of the licker. As a deliberate signal to others it can be sexually enticing, saying 'I would like to like you'. As such, it can be very arousing, particularly when done slowly and with other flirting signals such as a slightly lowered head and steady gaze. Licking another person can be extremely arousing and is typically done either as a part of foreplay or as a quick tease. Biting it Biting the tongue typically indicates that the biter wants to say something but somehow feels unable or unwilling to say what they want, perhaps for fear of offending or breaking social rules. Inside the mouth With mouth closed and tongue inside the mouth, you can still sometimes see what it is doing. Pressed against the cheek it can indicate thinking and uncertainty. Pushed in front of the teeth, pushing out the lips, can also indicate uncertainty. 9. Nose body language The nose, which is right in the middle of the face, can send a certain amount of body language. Flared When the nostrils are widened it allows more air to be breathed in and out and readies the person for combat. In a related sense, this can indicate the person is experiencing extreme displeasure. Flared nostrils may also indicate that the person is making an internal judgment about something. Wrinkled The nose can be wrinkled by pushing up from the mouth. This happens when a bad smell is detected. It can also appear with a metaphoric bad smell is thought about, for example when somebody else suggests a distasteful idea (see: even language uses bad-taste metaphor!). Another variation is when the person is thinking about something but is not satisfied with their own ideas. Sniffing Aside from when a person has a cold, sniffing can indicate displeasure or disgust. This may
  • 12. 12 also happen on one side, with the mouth twitching up as well. Touching it Touching the nose can indicate that the person has detected a bad smell. It is also common signal from a person who is not telling the truth. When a person lies, blood vessels in their nose may dilate, making the nose swell or appear redder. This also may lead to them touching or scratching the nose. Rubbing the finger alongside the nose can indicate disagreement. Pinching the bridge of the nose can show the person is evaluating something, usually negatively and with some frustration. Fiddling with the nose or pressing it down can just be a habit when the person is thinking. 10. Eyes body language A. The eyes are often called, with some justification, 'the windows of the soul' as they can send many different non-verbal signals. For reading body language this is quite useful as looking at people's eyes are a normal part of communication (whilst gazing at other parts of the body can be seen as rather rude). Looking up When a person looks upwards they are often thinking. In particular they are probably making pictures in their head and thus may well be an indicator of a visual thinker. When they are delivering a speech or presentation, looking up may be their recalling their prepared words. Looking upwards and to the left can indicate recalling a memory. Looking upwards and the right can indicate imaginative construction of a picture (which can hence betray a liar). Be careful with this: sometimes the directions are reversed -- if in doubt, test the person by asking them to recall known facts or imagine something. Looking up may also be a signal of boredom as the person examines the surroundings in search of something more interesting. Head lowered and eyes looking back up at the other person is a coy and suggestive action as it combines the head down of submission with eye contact of attraction. It can also be judgemental, especially when combined with a frown. Looking down Looking at a person can be an act of power and domination. Looking down involves not looking at the other person, which hence may be a sign of submission ('I am not a threat, really; please do not hurt me. You are so glorious I would be dazzled if I looked at you.') Looking down can thus be a signal of submission. It can also indicate that the person is feeling guilty. A notable way that a lower person looks down at a higher person is by tilting their head back. Even taller people may do this. Looking down and to the left can indicate that they are talking to themselves (look for slight movement of the lips). Looking down and to the right can indicate that they are attending to internal emotions. In many cultures where eye contact is a rude or dominant signal, people will look down when talking with others in order to show respect. Looking sideways Much of our field of vision is in the horizontal plane, so when a person looks sideways, they are either looking away from what is in front of them or looking towards something that has taken their interest. A quick glance sideways can just be checking the source of a distraction to assess for threat or interest. It can also be done to show irritation ('I didn't appreciate that comment!'). Looking to the left can indicate a person recalling a sound. Looking to the right can indicate that they are imagining the sound. As with visual and other movements, this can be reversed and may need checking against known truth and fabrication. Lateral movement Eyes moving from side-to-side can indicate shiftiness and lying, as if the person is looking for an escape route in case they are found out. Lateral movement can also happen when the person is being conspiratorial, as if they are checking that nobody else is listening. Eyes may also move back and forth sideways (and sometimes up and down) when the person is visualizing a big picture and is literally looking it over.
  • 13. 13 Gazing Looking at something shows an interest in it, whether it is a painting, a table or a person. When looking at a person normally, the gaze is usually at eye level or above (see eye contact, below). The gaze can also be a defocused looking at the general person. Looking at a person's mouth can indicate that you would like to kiss them. Looking at sexual regions indicates a desire to have sexual relations with them. Looking up and down at a whole person is usually sizing them up, either as a potential threat or as a sexual partner (notice where the gaze lingers). This can be quite insulting and hence indicate a position of presumed dominance, as the person effectively says 'I am more powerful than you, your feelings are unimportant to me and you will submit to my gaze'. Looking at their forehead or not at them indicates disinterest. This may also be shown by defocused eyes where the person is 'inside their head' thinking about other things. It is difficult to conceal a gaze as we are particularly adept at identifying exactly where other people are looking. This is one reason why we have larger eye whites than animals, as it aids complex communication. Eye contact in many cultures is considered dominant or rude. Glancing Glancing at something can betray a desire for that thing, for example glancing at the door can indicate a desire to leave. Glancing at a person can indicate a desire to talk with them. It can also indicate a concern for that person's feeling when something is said that might upset them. Glancing may indicate a desire to gaze at something or someone where it is forbidden to look for a prolonged period. Eye contact Doe eyes A softening of the eyes, with relaxing of muscles around the eye and a slight defocusing as the person tries to take in the whole person is sometimes called doe eyes, as it often indicates sexual desire, particularly if the gaze is prolonged and the pupils are dilated (see below). The eyes may also appear shiny. Making eye contact Looking at a person acknowledges them and shows that you are interested in them, particularly if you look in their eyes. Looking at a person's eyes also lets you know where they are looking. We are amazingly good at detecting what they are looking at and can detect even a brief glance at parts of our body, for example. If a person says something when you are looking away and then you make eye contact, then this indicates they have grabbed your attention. Breaking eye contact Prolonged eye contact can be threatening, so in conversation we frequently look away and back again. Breaking eye contact can indicate that something that has just been said that makes the person not want to sustain eye contact, for example that they are insulted, they have been found out, they feel threatened, etc. This can also happen when the person thinks something that causes the same internal discomfort. Looking at a person, breaking eye contact and then looking immediately back at them is a classic flirting action, particularly with the head held coyly low in suggested submission. Long eye contact Eye contact longer than normal can have several different meanings. Eye contact often increases significantly when we are listening, and especially when we are paying close attention to what the other person is saying. Less eye contact is used when talking, particularly by people who are visual thinkers as they stare into the distance or upwards as they 'see' what they are talking about. We also look more at people we like and like people who look at us more. When done with doe eyes and smiles, it is a sign of attraction. Lovers will stare into each others eyes for a long period. Attraction is also indicated by looking back and forth between the two eyes, as if we are desperately trying to determine if they are interested in us too. An attraction signal that is more commonly used by women is to hold the other person's gaze for about three seconds, Then look down for a second or two and then look back up again (to see if they have taken the bait). If the other person is still looking at them, they are rewarded with a coy smile or a slight widening of the eyes ('Yes, this message is for you!'). When done without blinking, contracted pupils and an immobile face, this can indicate
  • 14. 14 domination, aggression and use of power. In such circumstances a staring competition can ensue, with the first person to look away admitting defeat. Prolonged eye contact can be disconcerting. A trick to reduce stress from this is to look at the bridge of their nose. They will think you are still looking in their eyes. Sometimes liars, knowing that low eye contact is a sign of lying, will over-compensate and look at you for a longer than usual period. Often this is done without blinking as they force themselves into this act. They may smile with the mouth, but not with the eyes as this is more difficult. Limited eye contact When a person makes very little eye contact, they may be feeling insecure. They may also be lying and not want to be detected. Staring Staring is generally done with eyes wider than usual, prolonged attention to something and with reduced blinking. It generally indicates particular interest in something or someone. Staring at a person can indicate shock and disbeliefs, particularly after hearing unexpected news. When the eyes are defocused, the person's attention may be inside their head and what they are staring at may be of no significance. (Without care, this can become quite embarrassing for them). Prolonged eye contact can be aggressive, affectionate or deceptive and is discussed further above. Staring at another's eyes is usually more associated with aggressive action. Following The eyes will naturally follow movement of any kind. If the person is looking at something of interest then they will naturally keep looking at this. They also follow neutral or feared things in case the movement turns into a threat. This is used when sales people move something like a pen or finger up and down, guiding where the customer looks, including to eye contact and to parts of the product being sold. Squinting Narrowing of a person's eyes can indicate evaluation, perhaps considering that something told to them is not true (or at least not fully so). It can similarly indicate uncertainty ('I cannot quite see what is meant here.') Squinting can also be used by liars who do not want the other person to detect their deception. When a person thinks about something and does not want to look at the internal image, they may involuntarily squint. Squinting can also happen when lights or the sun are bright. Lowering of eyelids is not really a squint but can have a similar meaning. It can also indicate tiredness. Lowering eyelids whilst still looking at the other person can be a part of a romantic and suggestive cluster, and may be accompanied with tossing back the head and slightly puckering the lips in a kiss. Blinking Blinking is a neat natural process whereby the eyelids wipe the eyes clean, much as a windscreen wiper on a car. Blink rate tends to increase when people are thinking more. This can be an indication of lying as the liar has to keep thinking about what they are saying. Realizing this, they may also force their eyes open and appear to stare. Blinking can also indicate rapport, and people who are connected often blink at the same rate. Someone who is listening carefully to you is more likely to blink when you pause (keeping eyes open to watch everything you say). Beyond natural random blinking, a single blink can signal surprise that the person does not quite believe what they see ('I'll wipe my eyes clean to better see'). Rapid blinking blocks vision and can be an arrogant signal, saying 'I am so important, I do not need to see you'. Rapid blinking also flutters the eyelashes and can be a coy romantic invitation. Winking Closing one eye in a wink is a deliberate gesture that often suggests conspiratorial ('You and I both understand, though others do not'). Winking can also be a slightly suggestive greeting and is reminiscent of a small wave of the hand ('Hello there, gorgeous!').
  • 15. 15 Closing Closing the eyes shuts out the world. This can mean 'I do not want to see what is in front of me, it is so terrible'. Sometimes when people are talking they close their eyes. This is an equivalent to turning away so eye contact can be avoided and any implied request for the other person to speak is effectively ignored. Visual thinkers may also close their eyes, sometimes when talking, so they can better see the internal images without external distraction. Damp The tear ducts provide moisture to the eyes, both for washing them and for tears. Damp eyes can be suppressed weeping, indicating anxiety, fear or sadness. It can also indicate that the person has been crying recently. Dampness can also occur when the person is tired (this may be accompanied by redness of the eyes. Tears Actual tears that roll down the cheeks are often a symptom of extreme fear or sadness, although paradoxically you can also weep tears of joy. Weeping can be silent, with little expression other than the tears (indicating a certain amount of control). It also typically involves screwing up of the face and, when emotions are extreme, can be accompanied by uncontrollable, convulsive sobs. Men in many culture are not expected to cry and learn to suppress this response, not even being able to cry when alone. Even if their eyes feel damp they may turn away. Tears and sadness may be transformed into anger, which may be direct at whoever is available. Pupil size A subtle signal that is sometimes detected only subconsciously and is seldom realized by the sender is where the pupil gets larger (dilates) or contracts. Sexual desire is a common cause of pupil dilation, and is sometimes called 'bedroom eyes' (magazine pictures sometimes have deliberately doctored eyes to make a model look more attractive). When another person's eyes dilate we may be attracted further to them and our eyes dilate in return. Likewise, when their pupils are small, ours may well contract also. Pupils dilate also when it is darker to let in more light (perhaps this is why clubs and bars are so dingy!). The reverse of this is that pupils contract when we do not like the other person, perhaps in an echo of squint-like narrowing of the eyes. Rubbing When a person is feeling uncomfortable, the eyes may water a little. To cover this and try to restore an appropriate dryness, they person may rub their eye and maybe even feign tiredness or having something in the eye. This also gives the opportunity to turn the head away. The rubbing may be with one finger, with a finger and thumb (for two eyes) or with both hands. The more the coverage, the more the person is trying to hide behind the hands. B. Our eyes are a very significant aspect of the non-verbal signals we send to others. To a lesser or greater extent we all ‘read’ people’s eyes without knowing how or why, and this ability seems to be inborn. Eyes - and especially our highly developed awareness of what we see in other people’s eyes - are incredible. Eyes tend to look right when the brain is imagining or creating, and left when the brain is recalling or remembering. This relates to right and left sides of the brain - in this context broadly the parts of the brain handling creativity/feelings (right) and facts/memory (left). This is analysed in greater detail below. Under certain circumstances ‘creating’ can mean fabrication or lying, especially (but not always - beware), when the person is supposed to be recalling facts. Looking right when stating facts does not necessarily mean lying - it could for example mean that the person does not know the answer, and is talking hypothetically or speculating or guessing. signal possible meaning(s) detailed explanation looking right (general ly) creating, fabricatin g, guessing, lying, storytelli ng Creating here is basically making things up and saying them. Depending on context this can indicate lying, but in other circumstances, for example, storytelling to a child, this would be perfectly normal. Looking right and down indicates accessing feelings, which again can be a perfectly genuine response or not, depending on the context, and to an extent the person. looking left (general ly) recalling, rememberin g, retrieving Recalling and and then stating ‘facts’ from memory in appropriate context often equates to telling the truth.
  • 16. 16 ‘facts’ Whether the ‘facts’ (memories) are correct is another matter. Left downward looking indicates silent self-conversation or self- talk, typically in trying to arrive at a view or decision. looking right and up visual imagining, fabricatio n, lying Related to imagination and creative (right-side) parts of the brain, this upwards right eye-movement can be a warning sign of fabrication if a person is supposed to be recalling and stating facts. looking right sideways imagining sounds Sideways eye movements are believed to indicate imagining (right) or recalling (left) sounds, which can include for example a person imagining or fabricating what another person has said or could say. looking right and down accessing feelings This is a creative signal but not a fabrication - it can signal that the person is self-questioning their feelings about something. Context particularly- and other signals - are important for interpreting more specific meaning about this signal. looking left and up recalling images truthfulne ss Related to accessing memory in the brain, rather than creating or imagining. A reassuring sign if signalled when the person is recalling and stating facts. looking left sideways recalling or rememberin g sounds Looking sideways suggests sounds; looking left suggests recalling or remembering - not fabricating or imagining. This therefore could indicate recalling what has been said by another person. looking left down self- talking, rationaliz ing Thinking things through by self-talk - concerning an outward view, rather than the inward feelings view indicated by downward right looking. direct eye contact (when speaking ) honesty - or faked honesty Direct eye contact is generally regarded as a sign of truthfulness, however practised liars know this and will fake the signal. direct eye contact (when listenin g) attentiven ess, interest, attraction Eyes which stay focused on the speakers eyes, tend to indicate focused interested attention too, which is normally a sign of attraction to the person and/or the subject. widening eyes interest, appeal, invitation Widening the eyes generally signals interest in something or someone, and often invites positive response. Widened eyes with raised eyebrows can otherwise be due to shock, but aside from this, widening eyes represents an opening and welcoming expression. In women especially widened eyes tend to increase attractiveness, which is believed by some body language experts to relate to the eye/face proportions of babies, and the associated signals of attraction and prompting urges to protect and offer love and care, etc. rubbing eye or eyes disbelief, upset, or tiredness Rubbing eyes or one eye can indicate disbelief, as if checking the vision, or upset, in which the action relates to crying, or tiredness, which can be due boredom, not necessarily a need for sleep. If the signal is accompanied by a long pronounced blink, this tends to support the tiredness interpretation. eye shrug frustratio n An upward roll of the eyes signals frustration or exasperation, as if looking to the heavens for help. pupils dilated (enlarge d) attraction , desire The pupil is the black centre of the eye which opens or closes to let in more or less light. Darkness causes pupils to dilate. So too, for some reason does seeing something appealing or attractive. The cause of the attraction depends on the situation. In the case of sexual attraction the effect can be mutual - dilated pupils tend to be more appealing sexually that contracted ones, perhaps because of an instinctive association with darkness, night-time, bedtime, etc., although the origins of this effect are unproven. Resist the temptation to imagine that everyone you see with dilated pupils is sexually attracted to you. blinking frequent ly excitement , pressure Normal human blink rate is considered to be between six and twenty times a minute, depending on the expert. Significantly more than this is a sign of excitement or pressure. Blink rate can increase to up to a hundred times a minute. Blink rate is not a reliable sign of lying. blinking infreque ntly various Infrequent blink rate can mean different things and so offers no single clue unless combined with other signals. An infrequent blink rate is probably due to boredom if the eyes are not focused, or can be the opposite - concentration - if accompanied with a strongly focused gaze. Infrequent blink rate can also be accompanied by signals of hostility or negativity, and is therefore not the most revealing of body language signals. eyebrow raising (eyebrow ‘flash’) greeting, recognitio n, acknowledg ement Quickly raising and lowering the eyebrows is called an ‘eyebrow flash’. It is a common signal of greeting and acknowledgement, and is perhaps genetically influenced since it is prevalent in monkeys (body language study does not sit entirely happily alongside creationism). Fear and surprise are also signalled by the eyebrow flash, in which case the eyebrows normally remain raised for longer, until the initial shock subsides. winking friendly acknowledg ement, complicity (e.g., sharing a secret or Much fuss was made in May 2007 when George W Bush winked at the Queen. The fuss was made because a wink is quite an intimate signal, directed exclusively from one person to another, and is
  • 17. 17 joke) associated with male flirting. It is strange that a non-contact wink can carry more personal implications than a physical handshake, and in many situations more than a kiss on the cheek. A wink is given additional spice if accompanied by a click of the tongue. Not many people can carry it off. Additionally - and this was partly the sense in which Bush used it - a wink can signal a shared joke or secret. 11. Eyebrow body language Eyebrows can send body language. Being near the eyes, which are the major senders of signals, they are highly visible communicators, although the limited control of muscles around them can limit what they say. Lowered Lowering the eyebrows conceals the eyes to a certain degree. Particularly with a lowered head, this can thus indicate deception or a desire that eye signals are harder to see. Lowered eyebrows may also indicate annoyance, perhaps effectively saying 'I am so displeased, I do not want to look at you.' Related to this, lowered eyebrows are a sign of a dominant person. Raised When a person is surprised, their eyebrows are often raised. This typically happens as a part of opening the eyes wider, perhaps to see more clearly what is going on. The more the surprise. the higher the eyebrows are raised. Raising the eyebrows can also signal a question. When as question is asked and the eyebrows raised afterwards, this is a clear invitation to answer the question. Opposite to the dominant lowering of eyebrows, raising eyebrows is may be a submissive move or indicate openness, as it lets the other person see your eyes ('I am not looking where I should not!'). Raising a single eyebrow is something that only some people can do and can be a bit more wry in its meaning, for example asking 'Are you sure?' when the other person appears to be talking with limited accuracy. Middle-raised By pushing together the eyebrows and pulling up the forehead, the eyebrows can be made to slope outwards. This can indicate relief ('Whew!'). It can also indicate anxiety ('Oh no!'). Middle-lowered When the middle of the eyebrows are pulled down so they slope inwards, this often shows that the person is angry or frustrated. It can also indicate intense concentration. Oscillating When we see people we know, we often give a quick up-down flash of the eyebrows in recognition and greeting. This is a common signal across all primates, including monkeys and gorillas. Rapid and repeated up and down movement may be an exaggerated signal, meaning 'Well how about that then!', in the way that Groucho Marx used it. 12. Forehead body language The forehead has its place in body language communications, often as a part of a wider set of signals. It is near the eyes and can be looked at without sending other signals (for example looking the mouth can say 'I want to kiss you'), which can make even small movements with it reliably observed and hence significant. Its main limitation is that it can only make a few movements. Wrinkling Wrinkling the forehead is often connected with movement of the eyebrows, particularly upwards, and hence acts as an amplifier of these signals. Raised eyebrows (and wrinkled forehead) indicates surprise or questioning. Sweating We often sweat more from the forehead than other parts of the body, making it significant in sending moisture-related signals. Sweating can occur when we are hot, which can come from external temperature, exercise and also inner energy and arousal. A cold sweat can indicate extreme fear and may be accompanied by damp eyes. Touching Wiping the forehead can be to remove sweat. It typically indicates relief and can be a deliberate exaggeration. It can also indicate fear, even when the person is not sweating. Touching the forehead happens in the greeting of a salute. This is effectively shading the eyes and says 'You are so wonderful I am dazzled by your brilliance.'
  • 18. 18 Slowly rubbing the forehead can indicate deep thinking, as if the person was massaging their brain to get it going. Rubbing the temples either side can indicate stress as the person tries to massage away the actual or implicit headache. The forehead may also be touched as a part of a propping up the head, typically with the thumb touching the side of the face. Tapping the forehead with an open palm or light fist says 'Gosh, how stupid I am!' 13. Hair body language The hair is a part of the body and hence is used in various ways for communication. Appearance Hair can be cut and shaped into a wide range of styles which contributes to the overall image and hence sends non-verbal signals. A conventional and tidy cut indicates a conventional person who follows basic social rules. Well-styled hair can indicate a desire to be attractive and so get the approval and admiration of others. Men Conventionally, men usually have a very limited social style, with hair cut reasonably short. Very short hair may signal aggression, perhaps echoing army crew cuts. It has also been used by 'skinheads' and is popular with club bouncers and other 'heavies'. Long male hair is typical of young 'drop-outs' (or those who would like to, but cannot afford it :). When unkempt it can show a lack of care and perhaps lower self-esteem. Longer hair can also be a sign of rebellion and assertion of identity. Women Women are socially permitted to wear a much wider range of styles, probably to attract men (and compete with other women in this). Long hair frames the face and may partially cover it, teasing about the beauty behind this curtain. Particularly when covering the eyes, long hair over the face provides a barrier behind which the woman can hide, perhaps when she has lower confidence or self-esteem. When women cut their hair short, it can indicate a desire to be male, like a man or perhaps to be unattractive to men. It may also be a rebellion against womanhood, for example when they have been mistreated by other women when they were young. Tossing Tossing the head throws the hair backwards (actually or virtually), drawing attention to it. It can thus be a romantic gesture ('Hey, guys, wouldn't you like to stroke my gorgeous long, blonde hair!'). Throwing long hair back also exposes the face, which may be an invitation, opening the doors to communication. It can also be an aggressive act as the person now gives you more unwanted attention. Touching Stroking the hair is a preening gesture, which can be deliberate checking that it is perfectly coiffed or an invitation to stroke also. Playing with the hair is particularly flirtatious and invites the other person to do this for you.
  • 19. 19 2.ARMS 1. Arm body language The arm is an interesting appendages with a ball at the top, a hinge in the middle, and with a rather complex toolset at the end. Watch also for arms held still -- this is often the first place the deceiver starts when trying to control body language (they may even hold one arm with the other to keep them both still). Expanding Arms are clever expanding devices that can make us bigger or smaller, reaching out without having to move the rest of our body. They can extend towards the other person, either in threat or a more friendly way. Moved directly and quickly they threaten. Curved and moving more slowly they may offer comfort. The can also extend laterally, sometimes as a part of a body-expanding 'I am big' display that can signify confidence or perhaps aggression. Shaping Arms are used as a part of shaping as we wave them around and carve out the world. They are an adjunct to our words as we literally show other people how big the fish was or how small the child is. When we are excited or confident, we may wave our arms about like windmills. When we are less confident, our shaping is smaller and closer to the body. This waving of arms needs control and a person who bangs their hand on something may indicate clumsiness. Raising Raising the arms lifts something up. Done rapidly, it throws things into the air. With both arms, it exaggerates it further. A typical two-arm-raising gesture is frustration, as everything that is weighing the person down with confusion is thrown up into the air. Coupled with a shrug it indicates confusion ('I don't know!!'). Weapon Arms can be like weapons. They can symbolize clubs and spears as they strike out at imaginary foes. They can also be defensive, blocking and sweeping away attacks. In martial arts arms can be used to block and strike and this is reflected in how they may be used in communication. Crossing Arms can act as the doorway to the body and the self. When they are crossed, they form a closed defensive shield, blocking out the outside world. Shields act in two ways: one is to block incoming attacks and the other is a place behind which the person can hide and perhaps not be noticed. Crossed arms may thus indicate anxiety which is either driven by a lack of trust in the other person or an internal discomfort and sense of vulnerability (that may, for example, be rooted in childhood trauma). The extent of crossing indicates how firmly closed the person is. This may range from a light cross to arms folded to arms wrapped around the person. An extreme version which may indicate additional hostility is a tight close with hands formed as fists. If legs are crossed also then this adds to the signal. The hands in an arm-cross may also be used to hold the person in a reassuring self-hug, for example holding upper arms in a folded-arms position or wrapped around the torso, holding the sides. If the thumbs are up, this may indicate some approval or agreement with what is being said. Crossed arms, especially when holding one another can show the person to be trying to keep themselves still. This can be to suppress any signals. It may also indicate repressed anger (I have to hold myself to prevent myself hitting you). In some cultures it also signals that the person is holding themself still so they can pay greater attention to you (and is hence a compliment). When arms are not crossed, they expose the torso and the person, making them more vulnerable. This signifies comfort that often indicates trust. It can also be power position that dares the other person to attack whilst knowing that the other person dare not. Crossed arms is a very obvious signal and if you do it in front of other people they will likely feel rejected and respond accordingly (including not agreeing with you). Note that not all crossed arms are defensive. Sometimes folded arms, for example, are just a relaxed position. Crossed arms are also used when the person is cold (this is typically done with hands tucked under armpits to keep them warm). A common method sales people use to break a crossed-arms closed position is to give the person something to hold or otherwise ask them to use their hands. Reaching forward Reaching forward to the other person can be quite scary for them as you could attack them,
  • 20. 20 and a sudden thrust forward can indeed be an aggressive signal, especially if the hand is pointing or shaped as a fist. Reaching forward can also be an offer of support or affection, seeking to touch and join with the other person. Pulling back When arms are thrust forward, they are the first thing that may be grabbed or attacked. When a person feels defensive they may pull back their arms out of harm's way. signal part of body possible meaning(s) detailed explanation crossed arms (folded arms) arms defensivenes s, reluctance Crossed arms represent a protective or separating barrier. This can be due to various causes, ranging from severe animosity or concern to mild boredom or being too tired to be interested and attentive. Crossed arms is a commonly exhibited signal by subordinates feeling threatened by bosses and figures of authority. N.B. People also cross arms when they are feeling cold, so be careful not to misread this signal. crossed arms with clenche d fists arms hostile defensivenes s Clenched fists reinforce stubbornness, aggression or the lack of empathy indicated by crossed arms. grippin g own upper arms arms insecurity Gripping upper arms while folded is effectively self- hugging. Self- hugging is an attempt to reassure unhappy or unsafe feelings. one arm across body claspin g other arm by side (female ) arms nervousness Women use this gesture. Men tend not to. It’s a ‘barrier’ protective signal, and also self- hugging. arms held behind body with hands clasped arms confidence, authority As demonstrated by members of the royal family, armed forces officers, teachers, policemen, etc. handbag held in front of body (female ) arms nervousness Another ‘barrier’ protective signal. holding papers arms nervousness Another ‘barrier’ protective signal, across chest (mainly male) especially when arm is across chest. adjusti ng cuff, watchst rap, tie, etc., using an arm across the body arms nervousness Another ‘barrier’ protective signal. arms/ha nds coverin g genital region (male) arms / hands nervousness Another ‘barrier’ protective signal. holding a drink in front of body with both hands arms / hands nervousness Another ‘barrier’ protective signal. seated, holding drink on one side with hand from other side arms / hands nervousness One arm rests on the table across the body, holding a drink (or pen, etc). Another ‘barrier’ protective signal. touchin g or scratch ing shoulde r using arm across body arms / shoulde r nervousness Another ‘barrier’ protective signal. 2. Elbow body language When you think 'body language', the elbow is not usually the first thing you think of, and indeed there are less things they can say. The lesser-noticed parts, however, should always be watched, both individually and as a part of a wider cluster. Size Elbows are often used as a central part of a size display as we push them outwards as we puff ourselves up to appear bigger larger than we are (much as birds stand their feathers on end). Putting hands on the waist sends a stronger signal. More subtle is simply to expand the chest and push elbows slightly out. This is usually done whilst standing and with the body stationery (it is difficult to run with elbows sticking out).
  • 21. 21 This can signify aggression, but may also be a more relaxed attention-getting pose (look at me!). This often is accompanied by a relaxed S- shaped body curve, with one foot pointing forward at the target person. Weapon For those who have struggled in big January sales know (or any hurrying crowd for that matter), elbows can make excellent weapons. They are a pointed tool at the end of the powerful upper arm and a jab in the ribs can wind even a somewhat larger opponent. In everyday language a symbolic strike towards someone (without hitting them) says 'I feel like hitting you' or 'I could hit you'. It thus can be a suggestion to desist from some undesirable behavior. Prop When seated, putting elbows on the table may indicate a relaxed state. The head may thus be propped up by cupped hands. Pointer We tend to point at people and things in which we are interested in some way. The most obvious way is with the finger. We also do it with other parts of the body. One of the most subtle and subconscious of these is the elbow. 3. Hand body language Hands have 27 bones and are a very expressive part of our anatomy. The give us enormous capability as an evolved species in how we handle our environment. Reading palms is not just about the lines on your hand. After the face, hands probably the richest source of body language. It is also worth noting that gestures with the hands vary significantly across cultures and an 'innocent' hand signal can get you arrested in another country. A hand signal may be small, perhaps betraying subconscious thinking. It may also be exaggerated or done with both hands to emphasize the point. Holding Cupped hands form a container which can hold gently. Gripping hands can hold tightly. Hands can hold both individually or together (giving an exaggerated effect). Cupped hands can symbolize delicacy or hold a fragile idea. They may also be used for giving. Gripping can show possessiveness, ownership and desire (the tighter the fist, the stronger the feeling). Hands may also hold the self, such as when people hold their own hands, typically for comfort. Wringing the hands indicates more extreme nervousness. Holding the self can also be an act of restraint. This can be to let the other person talk. It can also be used when the person is angry, effectively stopping them from attacking. The two hands can show different desires, for example with one forming a fist and the other holding it back, restraining the desire to punch the other person. Note also that people who are lying often try to control their hands, and when they are kept still (often holding one another), you might get suspicious. Another sign can be holding them behind the back. As ever, these are only possible indicators and you should also look for similar signs. Hands may also be used to hold items such as pens or cups, which may be used as comfort objects, for example where a person hugs a cup (the cup represents the person, so they are effectively hugging themself). Holding an item with two hands effectively creates a closed position. Holding imaginary objects as they are talked about can show importance. Things which are important (and perhaps with fear of loss) are held close and tight. Things which are not wanted are held further away (or even tossed away). Even ideas may be held. The bigger and more important the idea, the wider the arms are held. A common size is as if they are holding a basketball -- this is useful as you can give it to other people. A wide-armed hold may indicate the whole world or something massive. Items may also be for distracting activity that releases nervous energy, such as fiddling with a pen, clicking it on and off, or doodling with it. Control A hand with palm down may figuratively hold or restrain the other person. This can be an authoritative action ('Stop that now') or may be a request ('Please calm down'). This also appears in the dominant hand-on-top handshake. A palm facing outward towards others fends them off or pushes them away in a more obvious way than the palms-down signal ('Stop. Do not come any closer!'). A pointing finger or whole hand tells a person where to go ('Leave now!').
  • 22. 22 Greeting Hands are often used in greetings. The most common form of greeting is shaking hands, of which there are many different forms. This is one of the few times we are allowed to touch the other person and it may get used to send various signals. Dominance is shown with hand on top, strength, prolonged holding ('I decide when to let go') and holding the person with the other hand. Affection is shown with speed and duration of shake, touching with the other hand and enthusiastic smiles. The similarity between dominant and affection handshakes leads to tricky situations where a dominant person pretends to be friendly. Submission is shown with a floppy hand, palm up and which is sometimes clammy and with a quick withdrawal. Most handshakes use vertical palms to show equality, are firm without being crushing and for a very exact period (so both know when to let go). Waving is also used for a greeting and may be done at a distance. Salutes are sometimes used, but mostly only in the military, where their style is strictly prescribed. Shaping Hands can carve the air, shaping what the person is talking about or meaning. They can thus create visual metaphors out of literally nothing. A man talking may shape a fish he caught. He might also carve out the shape of his ideal woman. Other gestures can shape more crudely, indicating holding and moving sexually significant body parts. Cutting The side of a flat hand can appear as a knife, cutting the air like a karate chop. The cutting hand may strike the other palm, creating visual and aural impact. A side-swiped cut with palm down tells others to stop what they are doing, for example when a person on stage asks the audience to stop clapping so they can speak. A short side swipe may also signal 'no' in any conversation. Cuts can signal aggression, particularly when coupled with an aggressive face. They may also indicate decisiveness, chopping with each point. A side-swiped cut can chop away someone else's argument. Striking The hand can strike openly, with the palm or closed as a fist. The fist can strike forwards, sideways or downwards. One hand is often used for symbols as two hands as fists can be an invitation to fight (two hands held inwards can also indicate extreme tension). Fist shapes and movements are often symbols of inner aggression. When moved towards a person, even a small amount, they signal aggression towards that person. A shaking fist signifies a strong desire to strike someone. Punching the air indicates triumphal excitement. Covering Hands can hide things. When people do not want to hear something, they put hands to ears. When they do not want to look, they cover their eyes. When they want to say something but feel restrained, they put their hands to their mouth. A hand may also cover a rudely open mouth, which may be opened in such as surprise or a yawn. Hands covering the mouth when speaking may be an indicator of lying, although it may also just indicate uncertainty. Hands can cover other things. A hand to heart may seek to protect it from shocking harm. A hand to the groin may protect from dangerous attack. Hands can also cover one another. Sometimes a tense fist may be covered by the other hand. Giving Outstretched palms may offer something to another person. Held with palms faced towards one another they might hold something large. Held upwards they openly proffer an idea. They may also show that nothing is being concealed, giving what I have, which is nothing. A single offered hand is the start of the handshake. Asking Palms offered upwards are a common plea gesture, as if asking for alms. Palms downwards may ask a person to calm down. Palms up or at 45 degrees and then pulled towards the body seeks to bring others closer to you in an attenuated beckoning gesture. Hands with palms pressed together indicate a more anxious pleading. This gesture may be done with fingers upwards in a clear prayer position ('Please do not harm me!'), and possibly thrust towards the other person. With fingers pointing down, this may be more concealed or a less
  • 23. 23 anxious desire for agreement. A variant of this is to have fingers interleaved, but otherwise making the same shape and movement. Rubbing Rubbing the hands together can mean that the person is cold. It also means the person is feeling particularly gleeful about something. This can be a shared benefit and be used in a conspiratorial way. When they do this less obviously and more slowly, they might thinking that they are going to benefit at the expense of someone else. Watch also for small smiles and defocused eyes as they imagine a rosy future (at least for them). Rubbing the face and particularly the chin can indicate thinking, evaluating and deciding. When a part of the body is sore, the person may rub it. This also happens when that part of the body is tense, for example the neck or abdomen, and can thus be a signal of anxiety. Light stroking of the body can be a romantic invitation, particularly if the erogenous areas (or nearby) are touched. This says 'I would like you to do this' and can be very arousing. Thinking When the fingers are pressed together forming a steepled shape, pointing upwards, the person may well be thinking, evaluating or deciding. This may also be done with just index fingers pressed together and other fingers interlinked ('the church'), with all finger-tips touching ('the cage') or with fingers interlinked. The steepled position forms a barrier against the other person and may be held lower when the person wants to connect more, such as when they are listening. A subtler version of the evaluative position is with the hand supporting the head but with the index finger up the side the of the face. The middle finger may cover the mouth ('I'm not ready to talk yet'). These fingers-up positions may include touching of the mouth or chin with the fingers, which may indicate the person is thinking about saying something but is not yet ready to speak out loud. The fingers may also be all intertwined and typically held under the chin. Again, this is a thinking and evaluating signal. Hands clenched can be a self-restraining act, effectively holding the person back from speaking until they are ready. Supporting Hands may be used to support the head or even the body when leaning. Hands wrapped around the cheeks with elbows on the table indicates a heavy head and the person may be sleepy or bored. This may also be indicated with a single hand propping up the chin or side of the head. The hands may also lightly support the head, either as a single hand gently under the chin or with fingers intertwined with elbows on table and chin touching the fingers. Particularly when looking at the other person, this says 'look at my face, isn't it nice' and may thus be an enticing position. A simple rule is that the more that the head is supported, the more the person is bored. When they are interested in what others are saying, support is light. Hiding Hands are often used in communication and hiding the hands may indicate a desire not to communicate or not to collaborate, saying 'I don't want to talk with you' or 'I do not agree with you'. This may be done in a deliberate gesture of defiance, such as stuffing hands in pockets. Liars may hide their hands in fear that they will give themselves away. Hiding hands may also be a position of listening, sending the message 'I do not want to talk because I want to listen to you.' Putting hands in pockets or behind the back can also be due to just feeling relaxed and not needing to talk. Touching The hand may touch any part of the body in a whole range of situation. Perhaps the most common reason for touching oneself is self-affirmation ('I am here. I am real. I am ok.') and related anxiety. Anxiety can be related to concern for the outer world or the inner world of thoughts and forecasts. Touching is also used in romantic situations, where parts of the body may be lightly touched or stroked in simulation of desired or suggested action by the other person. The more erotic the parts being touched, the stronger the signal is sent. Touching can also be a form of punishment, for example when a person slaps their head ('Bother - I forgot!').
  • 24. 24 Touching the other person can be an act of domination or of friendship, for example a hand on the shoulder whilst telling them off adds authority, whilst a gentle touch on the arm when sympathizing demonstrates concern for them. Preening Preening is a common action as the person brushes their hair and clothes, figuratively making themselves look more attractive and sending the signal 'Aren't I beautiful!' This is thus says 'Please like me' and may be a romantic invitation, a signal of superiority or indicate feelings of vulnerability. Picking at bits of fluff clothes often shows disapproval as the person figuratively picks apart your argument. Weighing Cupped hands may be used to indicate weight, which often is used as a metaphor for importance. Single-handed weighting bounces the cupped hand up and down, for example when an argument is being proposed. Two hands are used to indicate discussion of A vs. B. Watch which hands seems to hold the heavier weight -- this will be the one which the person thinks is most significant. signal part of body possible meaning(s) detailed explanation palm(s ) up or open hands submissive , truthful, honesty, appealing Said to evolve from when open upward palms showed no weapon was held. A common gesture with various meanings around a main theme of openness. Can also mean “I don’t have the answer,” or an appeal. In some situations this can indicate confidence (such as to enable openness), or trust/trustworthiness. An easily faked gesture to convey innocence. Outward open forearms or whole arms are more extreme versions of the signal. palm(s ) up, finger s pointi ng up hands defensive, instructio n to stop Relaxed hands are more likely to be defensive as if offered up in protection; rigid fingers indicates a more authoritative instruction or request to stop whatever behaviour is promoting the reaction. palm(s ) down hands authority, strength, dominance Where the lower arm moves across the body with palm down this is generally defiance or firm disagreement. palm up and moving hands striving for or seeking an The hand is empty, but figuratively holds a problem or idea as if up and down as if weighi ng answer weighing it. The signal is one of ‘weighing’ possibilities. hand(s ) on heart (left side of chest) hands seeking to be believed Although easy to fake, the underlying meaning is one of wanting to be believed, whether being truthful or not. Hand on heart can be proactive, as when a salesman tries to convince a buyer, or reactive, as when claiming innocence or shock. Whatever, the sender of this signal typically feels the need to emphasise their position as if mortally threatened, which is rarely the case. finger pointi ng (at a person ) hands aggression , threat, emphasis Pointing at a person is very confrontational and dictatorial. Commonly adults do this to young people. Adult to adult it is generally unacceptable and tends to indicate a lack of social awareness or self- control aside from arrogance on the part of the finger pointer. The finger is thought to represent a gun, or pointed weapon. Strongly associated with anger, directed at another person. An exception to the generally aggressive meaning of finger pointing is the finger point and wink, below. finger point and wink hands/ eyes acknowledg ement or confirmati on The subtle use of a winked eye with a pointed finger changes the finger point into a different signal, that of acknowledging something, often a contribution or remark made by someone, in which case the finger and wink are directed at the person concerned, and can be a signal of positive appreciation, as if to say, “You got it,” or “You understand it, well done”. finger pointi ng (in the air) hands emphasis Pointing in the air is generally used to add emphasis, by a person feeling in authority or power. finger waggin g (side to side) hands warning, refusal Rather like the waving of a pistol as a threat. Stop it/do as you are told, or else.. finger waggin g (up and down) hands admonishme nt, emphasis The action is like pressing a button on a keypad several times. Like when a computer or elevator won’t work, as if pressing the button lots of times will make any difference.. hand chop hands emphasis - especially The hand is used like a guillotine, as if to
  • 25. 25 the last word on a matter kill the discussion. finger tips and thumbs touchi ng each other on opposi te hands (’stee pling’ ) hands thoughtful ness, looking for or explaining connection s or engagement Very brainy folk use this gesture since it reflects complex and/or elevated thinking. In this gesture only the fingertips touch - each finger with the corresponding digit of the other hand, pointing upwards like the rafters of a tall church roof. Fingers are spread and may be rigidly straight or relaxed and curved. Alternating the positions (pushing fingers together then relaxing again - like a spider doing press-ups on a mirror) enables the fascinating effect (nothing to do with body language), which after enough repetition can produce a sensation of having a greased sheet of glass between the fingers. Try it - it’s very strange. Very brainy people probably don’t do this because they have more important things to think about. It’s their loss. steepl ed finger s pointi ng forwar d hands thoughtful ness and barrier The upwards-pointing version tends to indicate high-minded or connective/complex thinking, however when this hand shape is directed forward it also acts as a defensive or distancing barrier between the thinker and other(s) present. palms down moving up and down, finger s spread hands seeking or asking for calm, loss of control of a group or situation Seen often in rowdy meetings the gesture is typically a few inches above the table top, but is also seen standing up. The action is one of suppressing or holding down a rising pressure. Teachers use this gesture when trying to quieten a class. cracki ng knuckl es hands comforting habit, attention- seeking Usually male. Machismo or habit. Meaning depends on context. No- one knows still exactly how the noise is made, but the notion that the practice leads to arthritis is now generally thought to be nonsense. interw oven clench ed finger s hands frustratio n, negativity , anxiousnes s Usually hands would be on a table or held across stomach or on lap. index finger and thumb touchi ng at tips hands satisfacti on, ‘OK’ This is generally seen to be the ‘OK’ signal, similar to the ‘thumbs up’. The signal may be to oneself quietly, or more pronounced directed to others. There is also the sense of this suggesting something being ‘just right’ as if the finger and thumb are making a fine adjustment with a pinch of spice or a tiny turn of a control knob. The circle formed by the joined finger and thumb resembles the O from OK. The remaining three fingers are spread. thumb( s) up hands positive approval, agreement, all well In the Western world this signal is so commonly used and recognized it has become a language term in its own right: ‘thumbs up’ means approved. It’s a very positive signal. Two hands is a bigger statement of the same meaning. thumbs down hands disapprova l, failure Logically the opposite of thumbs up. Rightly or wrongly the thumbs up and down signals are associated with the gladiatorial contests of the ancient Roman arenas in which the presiding dignitary would signal the fate of the losing contestants. hand held horizo ntally and rocked from side to side hands undecided, in the balance Signalling that a decision or outcome, normally finely balanced and difficult to predict or control, could go one way or another. rubbin g hands togeth er hands anticipati on, relish A signal - often a conscious gesture - of positive expectation, and often related to material or financial reward, or an enjoyable activity and outcome. hand(s ) clampe d over mouth hands / mouth suppressio n, shock See mouth/hand clamp entry in mouth section, which is a subject in its own right. touchi ng nose, while speaki ng hands / nose lying or exaggerati on This is said to hide the reddening of the nose caused by increased blood flow. Can also indicate mild embellishment or fabrication. The children’s story about Pinocchio (the wooden puppet boy whose nose grew when he told lies) reflects long-standing associations between the nose and telling lies. scratc hing nose, while speaki ng hands / nose lying or exaggerati on Nose-scratching while speaking is a warning sign, unless the person genuinely has an itchy nose. Often exhibited when recounting an event or incident. pinchi ng or rubbin g nose, hands / nose thoughtful ness, suppressin g comment In many cases this is an unconscious signalling of holding back or delaying a response or opinion.