Top 10 Lessons From Donald Trump's Body Language

What an expert in nonverbal communication sees when he watches the candidate.

Posted Sep 17, 2015

a katz/Shutterstock
Source: a katz/Shutterstock

Presidential hopeful Donald Trump is certainly a unique individual, with his own personal style—love it or hate it. Here is an analysis of 10 non-verbal cues Trump commonly presents, and the possible signals they may communicate to his audiences.

1. The Shrug.
Trump is becoming famous for this. When he can’t answer a question, or is trying to deflect criticism, rather than giving a verbal response, he simply shrugs. The odd thing is that this has seemed to be effective in stopping the questioner or the line of questioning.

2. The Eye Roll. 
During the debates so far, news-network cameras often focus on Trump even when another candidate is speaking. When he hears something that he dislikes or disagrees with, the camera then often captures the candidate's distinctive eye roll.

3. The Snarl. 
Snarling is used by humans, primates, and canids (dogs, wolves, etc.) as a sign of aggression or disgust. Trump seems to deploy a snarl frequently, when he is upset by someone or disgusted by what someone else has said. With his large, expressive face, the snarl is quite visible, and memorable.

4. The Smirk. 
Similar to a snarl, the smirk shows disagreement or displeasure, but in a dominating way. Trump's smirk is used to try to discount what others are saying and to make them look and sound foolish.

5. Emotional Expressiveness: Positive Emotions. 
As noted, Trump has an expressive face, which is one element typically associated with charismatic individuals. His smile (when not smirking) can be engaging, and his upbeat tone, when employed, can help to convey positive emotions to supporters. The emotional contagion process, a key to charisma, allows Trump and other charismatic individuals to express positive feelings to audiences, "infecting" them with his positivity.

6. Emotional Expressiveness: Negative Emotions. 
In the same way that Trump can convey positive feelings, his ability to display negative emotions, particularly anger, is quite strong. Again, through the contagion process, Trump's audiences can feel the candidate’s anger and outrage, and many may then become more outraged themselves.

7. Parallel Gestures. 
Parallel gestures, such as those used by Trump on the stage, are when both hands move in unison. As opposed to asynchronous gesturing or one-handed motions, the use of parallel gestures creates an impression of confidence and authority. As a result, supporters may be more likely to believe that Trump knows what he’s talking about.

8. Baton/Pointing Gestures. 
The baton gesture is used to punctuate and enhance speech. Former President Bill Clinton makes frequent use of the baton “fist” gesture, with thumb pointed outward, to emphasize certain talking points. Trump uses many baton-type gestures as well, but is more likely to use the more dominating finger-pointing, both to make a point and to accuse others. On the whole, though, this has been found typically to be less effective, and makes a speaker like Trump appear overly domineering.

9. Head Nods/Bobbing. 
Our research notes a cluster of nonverbal cues associated with charisma—outward/parallel gestures, rapid speech, emotional expressiveness, smiling, and head movements. Trump is well-known for his constant nodding and head bobbing. (See Jimmy Fallon’s impression of Trump, from the Tonight Show). These head movements may work to Trump’s advantage, but given their constant nature, they may not.

10. The Hair. 
(OK, I couldn't help myself.) Trump’s hairstyle is quite unique, and while it may not help him as a presidential candidate, it is certainly noticeable, distinctive, and so far, nonverbal ...

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