It is a common perception that one’s body language can be read, but how true is this?
In a recent article in New Scientist Magazine the author Caroline Williams debunks some ideas, which are commonly held as true.
The assumption that we can read the persons thoughts and emotions by watching their body language, has been in popular culture for many years with many books written on the subject.
93% of all communication is non-verbal or is it?
A good place to start to look at this is an often quoted statistic, that 93% of our communication is non-verbal, with only 7% being verbal.
This is based on research carried out by Albert Mehrabian, a psychologist based at the University of Los Angeles, in the late 60s. During his research, he found that an emotional message, conveyed with a different tone of voice and face expression, had more impetus than the words being spoken, for example the word “brute” in a positive tone, and with a smile was received positively, consequently the tone of voice and facial expression sent a different message, than the words being used. Researchers found, that subjects, could not differentiate whether the message being communicated, was offensive or well-meaning.
Mehrabian, found that subjects tended to believe the non-verbal cues, over the words being used.
Unfortunately for Mehrabian, he has spent the last 45 years, pointing out that he never meant this research to be taken as any kind of fact, Mehrabian, is often quoted as saying that the results of this research, only applied when there were specific circumstances and conditions – when somebody is talking about their likes and dislikes.
An interesting fact was raised in the article, in as much as, that if 93% of communication is non-verbal, we would not have to learn a new language, we could all read each other, consequently, carrying on that thought, language, would become redundant.
Moreover, one of the things that reading body language is often quoted as being helpful for, is to work out whether somebody is lying or not.
You will often hear poker player saying that other players have what is called “tells”; this can be a body movement, a tension in their face, or a nervous fidget, likewise, something as innocuous as rubbing the left side of your face, therefore reading the “tells” can tell another poker player’s opponent is bluffing.
One often misquote example is “all liars, look to the right, when they are lying” but research carried out by Richard Weisman at the University of Herefordshire UK, found no evidence to support this.
In fact, Weisman’s team used footage of police conferences, for missing people with some of the emotional appeals, asking for information, coming from people who were complicit in the disappearance of the person. Closely examining the footage, it turned out that none of the culprits, looked right, any more than any other direction.
As for other so-called “tells”, after studying more than a hundred cases, the team concluded, that the only bodily sign found in liars ,definitely do more, than people who are telling the truth, is have dilutive pupils and certain kinds of fidgeting or fiddling, with objects or scratching.
So how do I spot a liar if you can’t read body language successfully?
In fact, the best way to spot a liar, the study found, was not to watch the person’s body language, but to listen to the inflection on the words they use, the syntax, and what they are saying. The study found that liars tend to talk in a higher pitched voice and gave few details of their account of events and tended to repeat words, and are generally have more negative attitude, in their assessment of events.
In conclusion, the overall research points to good old gut feeling, to spot a liar. g. One obvious problem with body language is that people who tell the truth can exhibit the same body language as those who lie.
An interesting spinoff to the subject body language is research carried out by is a TED talk by Amy Cuddy. Also we have commented on this in a previous blog