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10 Things to Know About the Psychology of Body Language

Did you know that body language was the first form of communication to ever exist? Animals have been using body language since the beginning of time. Ever since then, body language has likely been the most common form of language. While we are not lions in Africa attempting to ward off predators from our babies, we really are not much different in the ways in which we practice body language. 

Body language is a form of communication that is non-verbal. This language includes physical behaviors in place of words to convey emotions and words. The methods in which we do this may include body posture, eye contact and movement, facial expressions, physical touch, utilizing space, and more. But what makes us act this way? How do our body movements represent what’s going on in our heads? Let’s dig a little deeper. Here are ten things to know about the psychology of body language!



Neanderthals got it. 

Neanderthals are an extinct species of humans who lived on earth roughly 40,000 years ago. While it is thought that Neanderthals knew how to speak based on of their neck structures, there is no way to know this for sure. While they may have spoken a verbal language, body language was likely used more often. After animals, these species of humans would have been the first to practice and truly understand body language.

 

We use body language without thinking about it.

Whether we are talking, listening, reacting or just existing, our body is in sync with our brain. The way we move our body may show how we are feeling on a psychological level. The way we are standing, sitting, walking, etc, can be a display of our mind. This silent way of conveying emotions and thoughts is base level. This is something we innately do regardless of hand gestures, intentional eye movement, and so on. For many individuals, this makes it difficult to hide how we are feeling. While this non-verbal language is helpful in so many ways, it also lets the world in on how we are feeling without saying a single word. 

We can be intentional with body language. 

While we may use body language without thinking about it, it is also something that we can have control over. Humans can use body language intentionally. When someone is purposeful with their silent language, they are acknowledging how they are carrying themselves. This can include how they are walking, how they are standing, direct or indirect eye contact, specific hand gestures, etc. 

For example, someone heading into a job interview make act differently than if they were walking into their friend’s house. They may be standing taller and more confidently. They may shake the interviewers hand and keep strong eye contact the whole time. This is where we can use body language to create an image for ourselves. 

All of this changes depending on location.



Cultural differences can vary body language norms depending on where you are in the world. These differences can be substantial. When traveling, whether it’s for pleasure or work, it’s important to be aware of this. This body language etiquette can include hand shakes, facial expressions, gestures, eye contact, touching, head movements, gender norms, and sitting and standing positions.

For example, in America we are told to stand confidently and make eye contact when we are showing respect for another individual. Picture yourself in a workplace environment. If your boss is speaking to you, you may be standing tall and making direct eye contact. In Japan, however, it is inappropriate to make eye contact with someone who ranks higher than you at work. 

People are confusing…read them. 

There is a lot going on in a human’s mind at any given time. Simply, people are confusing. When it comes to knowing what someone is thinking and how they are feeling, this can be a lot of guess work. However, we do not need to rely solely on vocal communication. Body language gives us an eye into the psychological side of the mind…why not use this? Someone’s non-verbal behaviors can help us truly figure out what’s going on in the inside. While each individual has their own dialect of body language, there are some key things that can help us understand:

  • If someone is engaged and interested
  • If someone likes us
  • If there is conflict on the horizon
  • If someone is lying or stretching the truth
  • If we shouldn’t be trusting someone

Sometimes we mirror body language. 

Individuals tend to mirror the actions and mood of the other individuals around them. It is human nature to become the more appropriate version of ourselves to fit the environment we are in. It’s simple adaptation. We feed off of each other’s energies. This energy or mood may be good, bad, awkward, uncomfortable, quiet, loud, safe, calm, etc. 

Have you ever woken up in a great mood, met up with a friend or a partner, and they’re in a terrible mood? Or have you ever felt lost and uncomfortable in a room so you look around and take note of what everyone else is doing? If so, it’s likely that you felt your initial mood and energy change to match theirs. Most times, we do this without even noticing.  

Criminals read body language well.

I’m sure by now you have gathered one of our main points: body language can say a lot about a person. For criminals, this may be their favorite language to read and listen to. When a criminal is reading someone’s behaviors, they may be considering victimizing them. Similar to wild animals looking for their prey, criminals may close attention to behavior and signals. There are some body language movements that may make someone more likely to become a victim. They may come across as vulnerable. These can include looking frail and weak, being disconnected from the world, and a lack of confidence when speaking. 


Misreading body language could lead to trouble.

Body language is a form of communication. However, since this language is non-verbal, it’s meanings and definitions are not set in stone. While there are common themes in everyone’s body language, it could be risky to assume you know exactly what someone is saying with their behaviors. This could be a simple misunderstanding or even potentially dangerous for someone. 

Some forms of body language could give off the wrong impression such as a lack of care or professionalism. Some examples include:

  • Slouching or leaning back
  • Crossings arms and legs
  • Indirect or too direct eye contact
  • Hands in pockets-clasping hands
  • Nodding too often
  • Fidgeting and not sitting still
  • Big gestures
  • Looking at cellphone
  • A lack of personal space

There are also some common forms of body language that when misread, could lead to an even bigger miscommunication — one that if misread by a stranger could be potentially harmful. These include:

  • Smiling 
  • Believing lies
  • Touching 

Reading body language can save a situation.

Properly interpreting body language is a useful tool. Properly interpreting aggressive body language may be an even more useful tool. While some people can verbalize how they are feeling, not all people are capable of this. Sometimes anger takes the lead before verbal communication as well. This would mean being able to link someone’s aggressive body language signals to whatever may be going on with them psychologically. Doing this can help determine whether someone is angry, mad, ready to fight, hitting their breaking point, etc. Understanding this form of behavioral communication may be especially helpful for security guards, teachers, coaches, and parents. 

Males and females vs body language.

Males and females are different psychologically in a long list of ways. One example is that women tend to be better at reading body language than men. Males and females use different areas of their brains to read body language. The difference in reading these human behaviors is subtle, but drastically separates the ways in which we interact with people. Depending on gender, we may:

  • make or avoid eye contact
  • take longer to pick up on cues
  • utilize space differently
  • smile more often, and so on.

This is not just about two opposite genders interacting. It also rings true for the same genders interacting.

 
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