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6 Subtle Signals Your Body Language Might Be Sending

Eyebrow flashes, dilated pupils, and more.

Key points

  • We use body language cues to suggest friendship, intimacy, and sexual interest.
  • The eyes are a very subtle but powerful way to influence others and make a positive impression.
  • Appropriate gesturing can be persuasive and lead to others seeing an individual more positively.

Nonverbal communication is very subtle. A fleeting glance or a particular movement can influence our behavior, and we may be completely unaware of it. Here are six body language cues that few know about, but they can affect us in various ways.

1. Eyebrow Flash. This subtle movement, where the eyes instantly open wide, with eyebrows briefly raised, is quite common and seen in many cultures. It is usually done when we recognize another person and can be a very subtle and almost unconscious greeting–like saying “hi” with your eyes. If you give an eyebrow flash to a stranger, that person may think, “I must have known that person?”

2. Pupil Dilation. When a person is interested in an object or another person (romantically, perhaps), there tends to be a slight dilation of the pupil of the eye. This nonverbal ocular cue is so subtle that it likely goes undetected. However, research has shown that if people are shown photos of an attractive, smiling individual with a dilated pupil, they rate that individual as more attractive. It s as if it triggers an interest response (“you’re interested in me, I may be interested in you.”).

3. Persuasive Gestures. Several hand gestures can affect us. For example, our research found that speakers who used fluid, outward-focused gestures (directed toward the audience) were evaluated more positively. It also helped if gestures were fluid and seemed “natural” rather than forced. Pointing an accusing finger at the audience to “punctuate” speech is not evaluated as positively as the “baton gesture,” which is a closed fist with the thumb directed toward the audience (you may have seen politicians use the baton gesture during speeches).

4. Immediacy Cues. These body language cues help provide a sense of intimacy and connection. They include making eye contact (but not too much, which can be creepy), orienting your body toward the other person instead of standing sideways, leaning toward the other person, and gesturing toward them when speaking. Decades of research clearly show that these immediacy cues create positive feelings and are crucial for quality intimate relationships.

5. Subtle Touch. We shake hands, pat someone on the back, and gently touch their arm–all designed to make a connection. These forms of touch are often used in greetings. But touch, particularly if done subtly, can also be quite seductive. A gentle brushing of hands or touching of knees, when seated together, can be a flirtation cue. Of course, as with all nonverbal behavior, it has to be done carefully. Being overly “touchy” is an obvious turnoff

6. Facial Animation. In our research on deception and attraction, we discovered a clustering of nonverbal cues that lead to someone appearing trustworthy/honest and friendly/likable. These included: subtle head movements while speaking, free and rapid speech without too many speech errors and outward-focused gestures that punctuated the spoken words. Most important was enacting positive facial expressions (smiling, wide-opened eyes), which suggested both honesty and that the person was trying to connect with others.

Unfortunately, we don’t typically receive training in body language and how to use our nonverbal behavior to attract, persuade, and entertain other people. The key to success is monitoring your behavior (getting feedback from trusted others) and working on presenting yourself in a more positive manner in social interactions.

Facebook image: GaudiLab/Shutterstock

References

Andersen, P. A., & Andersen, J. F. (2005). Measurements of perceived nonverbal immediacy. The sourcebook of nonverbal measures: Going beyond words, 113-126.

Riggio, R. E., & Friedman, H. S. (1986). Impression formation: The role of expressive behavior. Journal of personality and social psychology, 50(2), 421.

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