The Random Comic Strip

The Random Comic Strip

Words to live by...

"How beautiful it is to do nothing, and to rest afterward."

[Spanish Proverb]

Ius luxuriae publice datum est

(The right to looseness has been officially given)

"Everyone carries a part of society on his shoulders," wrote Ludwig von Mises, "no one is relieved of his share of responsibility by others. And no one can find a safe way for himself if society is sweeping towards destruction. Therefore everyone, in his own interest, must thrust himself vigorously into the intellectual battle."

Apparently, the crossword puzzle that disappeared from the blog, came back.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Body Language

There is a show I watch on rare occasion, a political and news commentary type show, on which the host sometimes has a body language expert as a guest. I have some mixed feelings about such people and have placed them in the graphologist category. Like graphology it is more art and inference, more subjective than objective, than it is a science.

I have been amazed by some of the more accurate analyses of body language experts. But these are always made after the fact and about people in the public eye. Many of these facts can have been learned through casual, maybe even subconscious, research about the person. And that makes me wonder whether the expert is not fitting the body language to the facts rather than the facts to the body language.

For instance, if a person is known to be reclusive and evasive, the fact that he shows a closed stance, keeps his arms close to his body, and/or uses few hand gestures may indicate that or may be just seen as confirmation of that. Or it may be that the guy just is not expressive.

Another common reading is the eye action of someone who is lying or embellishing a story. Let me give you an example of how it is suggested one interpret this:

Lateral movement

Eyes moving from side-to-side can indicate shiftiness and lying, as if the person is looking for an escape route in case they are found out.

Lateral movement can also happen when the person is being conspiratorial, as if they are checking that nobody else is listening.

Eyes may also move back and forth sideways (and sometimes up and down) when the person is visualizing a big picture and is literally looking it over.

From ChangingMinds.Org

Now, forgive my cynicism, but the above seems to be vague enough to give the expert an "escape route" if he is wrong.

Now, I am not saying that reading body language is not a useful skill. It is. Salesman, police, spies, and a host of others might find it useful in their daily jobs. Even the rest of us can make use of the skills in various ways. Dealing with a salesman, for example. You can fool him by using body language to make him think you are not being sold when you really do want the product but want it at a lower price or as part of a better overall deal. I think it's trickier to use body language effectively than it is to read it, though.

If you are an actor, understanding body language would be immensely useful. It helps convey emotions, to project feelings, that you want your audience to grasp. And it should be subtle enough to not make you appear to be a ham.

I think we subconsciously use body language to provide context and emphasis to our conversations. We use it to sell, to convince, to seduce, to woo, to reject advances or to welcome them. This is why body language experts can be seen as accurate and useful. But they can be fooled by someone who understands the "language" and has learned to "speak" it as needed.

But I still think it is much more art than science. And an expert may be more easily deceived than he might think.



The Jules said...

Well, it's not phrenology, but it's interesting . . .

Michael said...

I actually read books on body language and recall the rules sometimes when I see it happening right in front of my eyes. It does work most of the time, because most people aren't that careful with their gestures and expressions.

I read somewhere that people who really want to erase these revealing displays of emotion is by learning how to keep a stoic face. I've never met anyone that was like that, but those really are hard to read.


Douglas said...

Jules - Phrenology is more, uh, hands on...

Michael - If you've never met anyone able to keep a stoic face, how do you know they are hard to read?
Body language knowledge comes in real handy when playing poker... unless your opponents are well versed in it.

Michael said...

The actors who play stoic roles in television, film and theater.

All the poker I play is online, so everything really is brought down to a more poker-y level, people's trends in gameplay.

Douglas said...

Michael - You had no trouble at all reading them. They were "revealing" stoic characters to you. Return to my blog and read the part about actors. You were supposed to see them as stoic. If you hadn't then either you or the actor would have failed. Think about an actor playing the role of a poker player.