Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Thursday, january 26, 2012

By Orin

If you have ever seen the TV show Lie to Me, you know all about Tim Roth's weird walk while portraying Cal Lightman, the body language expert. His walk may have nothing to do with what we are talking about here, but those of us who have seen the show know that it epitomises the use of body language in crime solving. But then again, it's not just Lie to Me. Think of any crime drama; they all milk it to the fullest. That often makes us question if body language really is the all important factor in communication.

They say that around 90 percent of all our communication is done by our bodies. That means everything - from how we turn our heads to the slight changes in our vocal pitch - has a meaning. We might be in control of what we are trying to say, but the real message might escape us, directed by completely involuntary gestures, even things we might be very unwilling to share. Look at kids; they are the most straightforward people around. Your next door kid will scrunch his nose at you and yell, 'You stink!' if he doesn't like you. Or it could be because you haven't showered this winter. Kids are honest. Their body languages too, would pretty much attest to that.

On the other hand, adults are complicated and deceitful. Adults will tell you, 'You look so cute!' when you look like Lady Gaga on a bad hair day. They will happily sell you Sauna Belts telling you that they will turn you into chiselled Caucasian blondes. Adults will say you'll get a space-station in your house if you vote for them and they will say you 'need' to memorise the events of the French Revolution, because you might need it to buy groceries someday. Adults will say basically anything, even though their body is screaming the opposite.

We are constantly being bombarded with body languages that manipulate our behaviour. Knowing about body signals would help us consciously use the signs to our advantage. Whether or not your crush is touching her hair when she's talking to you could make or break your romantic endeavour with her. Twisting the hair with her hands could mean that she likes you, and you get a green signal. Although be clever while interpreting that, because you might get beaten up by her hulk-like boyfriend.

Crossing of the arms and legs is one of the most universally recognised body gestures, because it commonly indicates being protective of oneself or being offended, while open arms show that you are welcome to new ideas. Dilated pupils are a clear sign of being attracted to someone. While those universal gestures exist, there are clear differences in body languages between cultures and countries: while the Americans enjoy ample personal space, the Arabs prefer to get very close and chummy while talking. While touching a random person in the streets is no big deal in Bangladesh, it is a complete no-no in Japan. The rest of the world nods while agreeing, the polish nod to differ. The friendly thumb up becomes the offensive 'kochu' over here.

Then there are politicians, who are experts at directing their body language to influence the crowd. Pointing index fingers while talking is done to show leadership, but do it too much and it could mean dishonesty. Political leaders often have experts design their every move, so they can always assert themselves, but sometimes just opening their mouth gives it all away. Even in advertisements, models are specifically told to act in a specific way (tilting their heads, for example) because it appeals more to the crowd. Crime solving has a healthy dose of interpretation of body languages, too. Touching the face while talking and blinking too much are signs of nervousness and lying.

Body language is mind boggling business. The more you learn about it, the more intriguing it gets. You could read up the numerous blogs and sites written on body language and become a communications expert, but then again everyone watches Sherlock and Mentalist these days. Instead we recommend you to watch The Human Animal: The Language of the Body or Secrets of Body Language by History Channel. You'll never be able to look at people the same way again.

To Simon and Garfunkel for the Sounds of Silence



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