Body Language

Understanding Body Language

Even when they don’t express their thoughts verbally, most people constantly throw off clues to what they’re thinking and feeling. Non-verbal messages communicated through the sender's body movements, facial expressions, vocal tone and volume, and other clues are collectively known as body language.

Body language isn’t always as clear as spoken language, but how we interpret it can play a big role in how we relate to and interact with others. It's a silent orchestra: Microexpressions (brief displays of emotion that an individual tries to conceal), hand gestures, and posture register in our brains almost immediately—even when we’re not consciously aware of them. These moments of recognition, however brief, can have long-lasting repercussions for how we interpret others’ motivation, mood, and openness, as well as how our own inner selves are perceived. Unfortunately, certain mental health disorders—particularly neurodevelopmental disorders like autism—may make it more challenging to notice and respond to the messages conveyed by body language.

Reading People

Body language is a vital form of communication, but most of the time, our own displays of body language—as well as our reading of others’—happen without conscious awareness. When you’re waiting for a blind date to arrive, for instance, you may nervously tap your foot without realizing that you’re doing it. Similarly, when he or she shows up, you may not consciously perceive that they appear closed-off, but your unconscious mind may pick up on crossed arms or an averted gaze. Luckily, with knowledge and a little practice, it is possible to exert some measure of control over our own body language, and to become more skilled at reading that of others.

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