It is important to remember that body language has a sender and a receiver – therefore interpretation of any gestures can be subjective. Interpreting still images lacks the context surrounding the image therefore we can not accurately know what happened just prior to the photograph being taken, nor do we know anything about the situation. In my opinion most body language interpretations and information should be considered anecdotal, although some body language interpretations regarding deception are supported by research (such as speech illustrators). Another point is that the sender may not intend to portray a particular message; however the receiver may still unconsciously interpret the ‘message’ a certain way. In my opinion, always use body language interpretations as guidelines rather than empirically-researched and scientifically-backed facts.
A Common Issue with Body Language
One of the worst body language myths spread by body language “experts” is that specific actions or gestures have specific meanings. For example, Max folds his arms which means that Max is defensive or in a negative mood. I want to make this quite clear: I will never say; “This action means that.” Max folds his arms. We have to take into account a lot more information before making an interpretation as to why Max has his arms folded; does Max fold his arms all the time (it is his normal behaviour or does Max hardly ever fold his arms)? What is the rest of Max’s body saying (face, arms / hands and legs)? Of course – we must also take into account what the weather is like, as it may be due to the cold that Max is folding his arms.
The Mind / Body Connection
The “law of attraction” is the name given to the concept of “like attracts like” and that by focusing on positive or negative thoughts, one can bring about positive or negative results (Wikipedia). This perspective infers “what we think about, we bring about” and that there is a mind-body connection. I also believe there is a body-mind connection that works in reverse. Social psychologist Amy Cuddy says; “Our bodies change our minds, our minds change our behaviour and our behaviour changes our outcomes.”
Body language affects how others see us as well as how we see and feel about ourselves, such as standing in a posture of confidence, even when we don’t feel confident – can affect testosterone and cortisol levels in the brain (Cuddy, 2012)*. There studies in support of body language being linked to our emotional state. If you wrinkle your nose in disgust you may feel nauseous** just as smiling, even when you are not feeling happy can lift your mood. How we hold ourselves can even affect our memory: studies have revealed that folding arms and legs while sitting in a lecture theatre can reduce recall of the information by up to 40% – another good reason to avoid folding your arms.
* You Tube – Amy Cuddy: Your body language shapes who you are. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ks-_Mh1QhMc
** This experience was shared by Erika Rosenberg – international FACS instructor – when she demonstrates AU9 (nose wrinkler) and AU10 (upper lip raiser) for long periods of time.