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What Body Language Can Tell Us

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Does our body language tell us more than we are saying verbally? Is our body language learned or does it occur naturally? There are many different thoughts to this, with some saying there is a difference in the meaning of facial expression across cultures, and others saying it is subjective. I think body language tells us a lot but can be interpreted in different ways. Are we telling people more about ourselves or our thoughts than we intend to? We usually know when someone is happy, sad, excited, angry, scared or surprised by the expressions on their face, but what else is there face and the rest of their body telling us? By understanding facial and body movements and positioning many psychologists and law enforcement trainers tell us we can tell what people are thinking, if they are being deceitful, annoyed, or just plain bored. An American Psychological Association article by Matsumoto and Hwang (2011), explains that we have microexpressions we have no control over. Their article quotes Porter and ten Brinke (2008) as saying when we are attempting to be deceitful about our emotions is when these microexpressions usually occur.

Susan Krauss Whitbourne PH. D. (2012) says in a Psychology Today article that by simply not grooming your hair can tell a lot about your emotional state. She goes on to explain how our posture shows that we are confident by simply holding our head high and our back straight. If we are bored or anxious, we tend to fidget our hands, and cross our arms tightly if we are angry. This would be a good example of how body language could be subjective. How do we know if someone is angry or just cold? We could cross our arms for many reasons other than being angry. Whitbourne also says leg shaking and foot tapping can show that we are anxious. The eyes tell a lot too. Our pupils, which we cannot control, dilate when we are being deceptive or attracted to someone. as well as many other articles, indicates which way you look during a conversation can tell rather or not you are being deceptive or recalling facts. Looking right is usually a sign of deception or making something up. If you are recalling a fact or memory you are looking left. This is the opposite in left handed people, so you would have to know if a person is left or right handed to be able to make any sense of their eye movement.

There are those who say our feelings are not reflected in our facial expressions. Both and did research that showed a tribe in New Guinea saw a threat and aggression in facial expressions that we would consider a fearful facial expression. The article goes on to say all cultures do recognize some expressions and the feelings that are associated with those expressions. I think we can tell how people feel or what they are thinking by their body language some of the time. It is something that can be easily manipulated. The example of crossed arms shows how a gesture could mean something that has nothing to do with emotions or what we are thinking, yet someone could perceive anger in us when we are just simply cold. If we think about what we are doing we can change our facial expressions, look in a different direction, not look at someone to long, stand differently, or any thing else that would change the basic signals we send with body language. I have a hard time looking at someone when I am talking to them because of something that happened to me as a teenager, yet it could be interpreted as I am being deceitful. Body language can be useful, but we need to remember sometimes things aren’t as they seem.


  1. Axtell, R. E. (n.d.). Home. Retrieved October 8, 2019, from
  2. Matsumoto, D., & Hwang, H. S. (2011, May). Retrieved October 7, 2019, from
  3. Meyers. (2018, May 21). Why our facial expressions don’t reflect our feelings. Retrieved October 6, 2019, from
  4. Meyers, T. R. (2018, May 10). Why our facial expressions don’t reflect our feelings – BBC Future. Retrieved October 8, 2019, from
  5. Whitbourne, S. K. (2012, June 30). The Ultimate Guide to Body Language. Retrieved October 6, 2019, from

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