A Close Look at the Main Body Language Signals Used by Humans

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Body Contact

This comes in different forms—hitting, pushing, stroking, etc. – most of which may involve a variety of areas of the body. Intimate body contact between individuals signifies their relationship with one another. It is far more common in the family between husband and wife, parents and children.

Proximity

Research findings indicate that people stand somewhat closer to people they like. Changes in proximity communicate the desire to initiate or terminate an encounter: If person A wants to start an encounter with person B, he will move closer, though this may be accompanied by appropriate gaze and conversation.

Orientation

This is the angle at which people sit or stand in relation to each other. Orientation has been found to vary with the nature of the situation—those who are in a cooperative situation or who are close friends adopt a side-by-side position; in a confrontation, bargaining or similar situation, people tend to choose head on. The main exception to this is that two close friends will sit head on-when eating.

Appearance

How a person appears publicly is conveying messages about the self—his social status, occupation, the social group he belongs to by wearing the appropriate clothes. Appearance also sends information about personality and mood: euphoric extroverts do not like to wear dark and drab colored clothes.

Posture

The different ways of standing, sitting or lying give culturally defined meanings. Posture is used to convey interpersonal attitudes: friendly, hostile, superior, and inferior attitudes. Posture can be a signal for status: someone who is going to take charge sits in an upright posture (and is in a central position) facing the others. The person’s emotional state is also revealed by posture along the dimension tense-relaxed.

Head-nods

It is not only a signal for “yes,” but acts as a reinforcer which encourages the other person to continue on, thus increasing the frequency of his behavior. By a head nod of the leader to a particular member of the group, the latter is recognized and given permission to carry on speaking. On the other hand, rapid head-nods indicate the nodder wishes to speak. Lastly, head nods are coordinated between two interactors, so that they appear to be taking part in a “gestural dance.”

Facial Expression

This is the most readily observed group of gestures. First, a simple smile, nice teeth unexposed, is commonly seen when a person is not participating in any outgoing activity. He is smiling to himself. The upper smile, as manifested by exposed upper incisors and usually the eye-to-eye contact between individuals, is often used as a form of greeting between friends and relatives. A broad smile is often associated with laughing; both upper and lower incisors are exposed, and eye-to-eye seldom occurs. An oblong smile, with eyes fully drawn back from both upper and lower teeth, is used when the person tends to be polite or pretend to enjoy a joke/ remark. Somehow there is no depth to this smile. Whatever kind of smile is projected, it has to be counter-checked with the eyes and other parts of the face.

Looking

The act of looking sends a signal to the other that a certain amount of interest is being taken in him, and interest of a kind which is signaled by the accompanying facial expressions. People tend to have eye contact more when they listen than when talking.

Gestures

Movement of head, feet, and other parts of the body may be used but are much less expressive than those of the hands. People communicate a great deal with their hands.

Nonverbal aspects of speech

These refer to prosodic and paralinguistic sounds. Prosodic signals are pitch pattern, stress, pattern, and juncture (pauses and timing) which affects the meaning of sentences, and are regarded as true parts of the verbal utterance. Paralinguistic signals include emotions expressed by tone of voice, group membership expressed accent, personality characteristics expressed by voice quality, speech errors, etc. These nonverbal signals betray the speaker’s attitudes and emotions. Thus a sensitive listener can read between the lines what the speaker feels deep inside and his reactions.

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