Body language is something that can define how others see one another, ranging from viewing one as dominant all the way to reserved and closed off. How does our body language portray us to others? Many of the traits of a person possesses can be derived from certain characteristics of their body language. Take a leader, for example. People can generally stereotype a leader mainly based off of how they talk; a loud voice, with obvious confidence in the words that are being spoken. What people don’t usually notice, however, are the physical traits and movements leaders encompass. An alpha typically smiles less, simply because smiling is a subordinate behavior used to please others. An alpha wouldn’t generally make an effort to please others unless it was for a purpose. The transmission of smiling also happens to take place within submissive people to alphas, in order to seem agreeable and non threatening to their power. Nodding is also a sign of submission, therefore resulting in leaders to hold their head still when speaking with another, rather than nodding in agreement. Amy Cuddy is a professor and researcher at Harvard University who studies how nonverbal behavior and snap judgements affect people in their day to day lives. Featured in a TED Talk, her presentation focused on the idea of body language and the effects this can have on one’s everyday life. The presentation highlighted a major idea involving dominant traits versus reserved. The speaker talked a lot about how dominant people with high work positions tend to use body language to make themselves appear larger, such as spreading arms and legs out, and standing above seated people. Reserved people, however, tend to fold their arms and cross their legs in order to unconsciously make themselves “disappear”, or seem smaller. If you take a look at the psychology behind these movements, this may come from an uneasiness, low confidence, or a feeling of awkwardness, and the act of appearing smaller helps those people to feel more defensive, and less viewable by others.
The same idea is also seen within those who are told they about to hear bad news, or are criticized; folding arms is a way of “defending” oneself. Now looking into the opposite idea, those who are angered tend to do the counter movements, those being keeping arms wide and hands in fists. Widened arms may convey the act of appearing larger and more dominant, while hands clenched in fists resemble what we would do before taking part in violence. An example that highlights this idea would be the character Michael Scott from the TV series, “The Office”. Michael is the head boss of the firm, and is portrayed as a man with inappropriate and childlike behaviors, mainly due to the unbecoming and improper jokes and comments he communicates while at the office. Something most unconsciously take into notice and use to further develop their perception of his character, however, is the way that Michael never expresses himself using the alpha traits described above. He is seen by the series viewers, along with the other characters from the show, as a fool with no common sense. This could be due to the way he never opens his arms wide or stands above others, he is seen as more relaxed. His character was created to be like this for the humor, obviously, but the body language behind this creation is a prime factor in portraying Michael in the ludicrous way we as viewers see him.
There has been research being conducted lately by Harvard University, The University of Oregon, and The University of Texas, all highlighting the idea of body language and how it is connected with one’s testosterone levels. The main idea that all these studies cover is one that explains how those with higher positions with more power tend to have higher levels of testosterone, with lower levels of cortisone. Testosterone is the male sex hormone that stimulates the activity of the male sex characteristics, and is what is contributed while a boy is going through puberty, such as increased facial hair, or deepening of the voice. Women also behold some levels of testosterone, but at a smaller scale. It contributes to a woman’s energy level and overall well- being, and is also what is used to give a woman her sex drive. Cortisone, on the other hand, is a hormone that is responsible for anti-stress responses, and also is the regulator for one’s blood pressure. When one has higher levels of testosterone, it can lead to more confidence and overall relaxation. Concurrently, lower levels of cortisone results in lower levels of stress. Overall, if one can achieve the perfect balance of hormones, it leads to more happiness and a better lifestyle. Body language happens to be a major contributor as to what level one’s hormones are at, and because of this, the previous studies mentioned have been increasingly studied. Amy Cuddy also covered ideas of hormone levels and body language. She claimed that when one is in what she classified as a “high power” pose, their testosterone levels would increase, therefore leading to a more confident attitude. A “high power” pose would consist of one someone such as a boss would have, with a more spread out, relaxed stance. Her description of a “low power” pose would be one someone such as a reserved character would hold, with more hunched over and protective movements.
Another major topic Cuddy spoke about was gender, and how this can affect body language. Females tend to take on the more reserved body language stereotype of folding arms and appearing small, while males tend to take on more of a dominant role. Males appear to take up a lot more space, just based on arm and leg placement when seated, for example. The situation that one is placed in can greatly alter the way that they express their body language. Whether the situation is within a crowd, friends, family, or with a teacher, for example, we tend to adjust the way we act. The act of lying is a highly studied concept, where the majority of information can be appropriated from the way one moves. Blushing cheeks, darting eyes, and nervous laughs are all common traits that can trigger someone to assume another is lying, but nervous ticks can be the easiest give away that most don’t realize they do. A famous lie that has proven this idea was the one where Bill clinton touched his nose when denying his affair with Monica Lewinsky. The idea behind why people may do this is because lying provokes a sense of guilt, resulting in small, micro-changes in facial expressions and in turn are difficult to contain.
Body language is also something that varies majorly within different cultures. Nodding your head generally translates to agreement and the idea of saying “yes”, but Bulgarians and Greeks, for example, use this act to signify disapproval or the word, “no”. The ears are also an important part of gesturing, for example, Portuguese tug on their earlobes to signify that they like their food, while in Italy this same gesture has sexual connotations, and in Spain this translates to the meaning that somebody is not paying for their drinks. Another common trait that people can relate to is the act of Europeans kissing on the cheeks to say goodbye. Most Americans would see this act as inappropriate, and would make them uncomfortable, but Italians, for example, see a handshake or a high five as too casual. Body language is something that most don’t seem to consciously recognize about themselves, and tend to translate similar movements to those around them. This is most likely the reason we can stereotype different cultures as to how they act, simply because it is the norm from where they come from, and may seem different to those not in the area. Taking a step down from cultures, even look within a community, and how easy it is to determine who somebody is and what personal traits they possess, just by merely observing them for a few moments. We tend to make these “snap judgements” very quickly, and in regards to body language, these judgements turn out to be correct for the most part.
Imagine walking down the street, and observing a woman enthusiastically playing with her kids on the playground. The woman would instantly be able to be portrayed as a loving, selfless mother, and you would be able to assume this about her within seconds, without even consciously considering why it is you feel this way. The ability of being able to walk into a room full of random people and within a few minutes being capable of determining what relationships each person has with each other and even the possibility of accurately knowing what they are currently feeling, based on how they converse with others. Looking at the silent film era, we can consider Charlie Chaplin, and his label of being a body language pioneer. He was a huge hit in silent films, and these were movies where an actor’s skill was determined solely by how well they could emphasize facial expressions and body gestures. Charles Darwin, famous psychologist wrote a book called “The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals”, highlighting ideas related to body language in it. Darwin conducted one of the very first experiments as to see how people can view emotions in others faces. He conducted a personal study at his home in England in 1868 in order to accumulate research and information for his book. Darwin showed his guests eleven picture slides with human faces, where they were then asked to convey what emotion they felt the person in the picture was feeling. There was almost always agreement upon the respondents, including emotions such as happiness, sadness, surprise, and fear. This all linked back to the book he was writing at the time, and the idea that people have been evolutionized to easily be able to read others and their emotions based off of facial expressions. Body language and facial expressions go hand in hand, in the sense that we can be portrayed similarly simply by how our muscles move, whether they be from the body or face.
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