A Guide to Body Language Part 1

When it comes to body language most people believe they’re experts, but in fact know very little.  I was no different when I began studying this topic, but after ten years I’ve come to understand clusters like ‘the frown’ (1) or ‘the slap’ and can spot them immediately.

I studied this field at a university in the birthplace of psychology, along the Australian-German border.  We would do field research in subways at rush hour, to gain access to a large number of people.  When we saw some body language that we found interesting we would approach the person, attach EEG monitors to their temples and ask them to write a page or two on exactly what they were feeling a moment ago.  This also led to the discovery that people are on average more likely to be in a negative mood than a positive one.

Information on body language is especially useful because it is something that you can use in your day to day life.  Once I realized that an outstretched hand wasn’t a threatening gesture, but instead one that simply offered a handshake, people stopped pointing at me.  The following is some useful *R L R* information that I hope you find helpful!

Hand and Arm Gestures

Arms Crossed: When someone makes this gesture they are unconsciously mimicking a smile with their arms.  The motivation to do that is that the arms are much more visible and more likely to convey their mood.  People showing this gesture are more than likely in a good mood and feeling relaxed.

Middle Finger Raised: The roots of this gesture extend back in time to when were animals.  Observing animals today such as cats will show you that when a cat is happy or excited to see someone they will raise their tail and keep it vertical.  Our simian ancestors probably used a similar gesture.  Since we no longer have tails we now raise a sole finger vertically (usually our middle one, the longest and most visible) to convey that feeling or happiness to see someone.


Since the right side of the brain controls the left eye, and vice versa for the right eye, and different information is stored in each hemisphere (2), we can tell a lot about what a person is thinking based on the pattern of winking.

  • If you are playing poker, you can usually tell what colour the cards in a person’s hand are after they look at them based on their pattern of winking/blinking.  Since the right side of the brain codes for red and the left side black, if the person winks with the left eye they have two black cards, and vice versa for red cards.  If they blink they are using both sides of their brain and have one card of each colour.  Knowing what colour cards your opponent has can possible be the most important piece of information you can learn at the poker table.
  • There is an easy way to tell if someone is lying based on their winking when dealing with numbers.  Psychologists and mathematicians have discovered that even numbers are coded on the right side of the brain while odds ones are coded on the left.  So if you ask someone how many drinks they’ve had, and they wink with the left eye and say “two”, you know they’re telling the truth.
  • However there is an ever more powerful way to tell if someone is lying based on their winking.  Lying requires the use of memory, creativity and speech, in that order.  The parts of the brain that house these functions are the left, right and left hemispheres very respectively (one must respect the brain, it is a fantastic piece of matter).  So if a person responds to your question after winking: *right, left, right*, you know they are lying.

Leg Gestures

Crossed Legs: Using a similar logic as we used with winking we can discover a lot about a person’s mood based on how they cross their legs (again because the left hemisphere controls the right side of the body etc.).  If a person crosses their right leg over the left, it means that more likely than not they are in a good mood, since the left side of the brain houses the good mood cortex.  This combined with crossed arms is one of the most inviting and positive clusters you can come across!

Facial Gestures

Tongue Out: In males a protruding tongue usually indicates that he is trying to attract a female.  Even though we don’t think of it as such the tongue is a muscle, one of the largest in the human body.  Without being aware of it males will let their tongues hang out around females they find attractive as an unconscious way of “putting their muscles on display”.

Women seem to respond to this.  Fossilologists have discovered fossilized tongues from our distant ancestors, and they were quite a bit smaller.  This seems to suggest that over time larger tongues have been sexually selected for by the evolutionary process.

That should give you some good information to chew on, I’ll be back with more helpful advice in part *L* two at some point.


1 – The psychological term for an upside down smile.

2 – The psychological term for side.

(just joking about everything except: cats raising their tails, the right hemisphere controlling much of the left side of the body and vice versa, some mechanisms being housed only on one side of the brain and the outstretched hand not being a threatening gesture)


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