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Body Language and Lying

Page history last edited by Anna Bosak 9 years, 8 months ago




" I speak two languages, Body and English"  -- Mae West


      Body language is defined as the gestures, postures, and facial expressions by which a person manifests various physical, mental or emotional states and communicates nonverbally with others. Body language is unavoidable and comes naturally, many times without the person ever realizing that they are performing it. [1] 

History and Research

      Prior to the 20th century, observations about body language entailed identifying and analyzing movement and gestures. [4] The first known written work on body language, was Chirologia: or the Natural Language of the Hand, by John Bulwer, which was published in 1644. [4] By the 19th century, the art of body language was primarily used by directors and teachers of theatrics, who persuaded their students to convey emotion and attitude through movements and gestures. [4] In 1872, Charles Darwin published, The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals,where he makes the connection between humans, apes, and monkeys. He proved that the animal species expresses certain emotions in a fashion similar to humans. [4] This book promoted the new and rising field of ethology, the study of animal behavior. In the late 1960's, Desmond Morris used years of researched evidence to create a book presenting his interpretations of human behavior entitled, The Naked Ape and Manwatching. This book had a large impact on the field of ethology, showing that there is a profound subconscious awareness of body language and expression of emotions, than ever imagined before. [4]


     The study of body language is a relatively new science focused on the kinestetics of non-verbal communication and expression. [2] Clinical studies have revealed that body language can actually contradict verbal communication, proving that the body doesn't lie. Body language includes reflexive and non-reflexive movement of body parts or the whole body, in a way of expressing emotional messages. [2] The reason for the lack of study years ago, was the lack of understanding of cultural and environmental persuasions. [2] As time has evolved, more interest has developed in studying the subconscious mind, especially in relation to lying. Law enforcement are trained to recognize lies, and clinical psychologists continue to use techniques to assist individuals suffering from the pathological desire to fabricate the truth. The media is constantly trying to find out the latest news about celebrities. The reporters are trained to notice any signs that celebrities may give off to show they are not telling the truth about a specific question.


     More recent studies have been conducted by Albert Mahrabian to determine the relative impact of facial expression and spoken words. In his first study, subjects were asked to listen to a recording of a female saying the single word, "maybe," in three tones of voice, conveying liking, neutrality, and disliking. The subjects were then shown photos of female faces with the same three emotions and were asked to guess the emotions that were present with the recorded voices, and both in combination. His conclusion was that the photos got more accurate responses than the voice by itself, in a ratio of 3:2. [5] In the second study, he had the subjects listen to nine recorded words, three conveying liking, three conveying neutrality, and three conveying disliking. The words were spoken with different tones of voice and subjects were asked to guess the emotions behind the words. The experiment finding was that the tone carried more meaning to the subjects than the words themselves. [5] Breaking his results down into numbers, Mahrabian found that with communication; 7% happens in spoken words, 38% happens through voice tone, and 55% happens through general body language, thus exhibiting the profound impact that body language has over the spoken word. [5]


     In today's world there are many books about ways to depict body language. One book specifically is The Definitive Book of Body Languageby Barbara Pease and Allan Pease. It is an international bestseller, that exposes the secrets of nonverbal communication. There are many books today that try to depict the secrets of body language.



 Identifying Body Language and the Lie                  

      There are many ways to identify body language, one of the most fascinating aspects being the lie. Many researchers have dedicated their lives to figuring out the true expressions of people who lie. Body language doesn't lie and is influenced by genetics and environmental stimuli. Lying is very hard for most people to do adequately. Most people prefer to go about lying in a situation that isn't a face-to-face interaction. [3] It is easier to successfully accomplish a lie over the phone, or through email, instant messaging, and texting. The more impersonal the situation the easier it is for a person to lie. When in a face-to-face situation it is a lot harder to hide the uncontrollable body language we send off. Over these types of media, the listener can only hear or view the words, and not see the person's body language. There are, however, significant ways to tell that a person is lying over the phone, as their voice tends to have a flat tone (or may be higher than normal), slower, and have no depth. [3] When a person lies to someone in a face-to-face situation, there are many different cues that show that the person is lying. Some are very obvious, while others are much more subtle. Many times an individual will avoid lying if they know that the conversation will be recorded. [3]



     The posture of a person when they are lying tends to become much stiffer and individuals usually don't use as much animation as they would normally do when they are telling the truth. [3] For example, a person that would appear animated and use lots of hand movements in conversation, may not move at all when telling a lie. This degree of control often is manifested in clenching of the hands and/or fists. [3]



     When a person is lying and suddenly becomes uncomfortable with the situation, they tend to start playing around with objects, to take take the attention off of them at the time. For example, while lying to someone, the liar oftentimes will pick up a pencil and start twirling and/or tapping it, thus displaying a signficant level of discomfort on the part of the liar. [3]


Forced eye contact

     Eye contact comes naturally for most people, as most individuals harbor the ability to tell when and if it is appropriate to look away or give more eye contact to a person. [3] A person in the middle of lying knows that they should make eye contact (because lack of it makes it apparent that they, themselves, are lying), but they oftentimes, give too much of it. The natural urge is for them to look away, so they force the contact, making it thus uncomfortable for the reciever. [3]


Mouth covering /lip touching

     It is natural when telling a lie to want to cover the mouth. As children, it was a dead giveaway to mothers when mouths were covered, so naturally people learned to quit doing this. With lying, it is very hard to resist the urge to revert back to the child-like behavior of "covering" a lie, expecially when telling big lies.  Lip and nose touching is a modified mouth covering technique, which is commonly employed today when telling a lie. It isn't quite as obvious as mouth-covering, and provides the liar with a sense of comfort, as it helps the liar resist the urge to cover their mouth. [3]


     Another angle to the face and nose touching technique, is placing an object between themselves and the person they are lying to. For instance, a person is sitting at their desk telling a lie, they then grab a coffee cup or a book and bring that object between the themself and the party they are speaking to. [3] This is a very unconscious act. They aren't really choosing to do this; it just makes them feel a little more comfortable at the moment. The same goes for smoking. If a person is a smoker, the feeling of the cigarette and smoke between them and the person they are socializing with, gives them a sense of comfort, as the other person puts up a "smoke-screen" to hide themselves behind. [3]


Eye Movement

     To hide embarrassment, many times a liar will look away from the person that they're lying to out of embarrassment. The habitual liar will train themself not to do this particular behavior. Another eye movement that will give a lie away is when a person has shifty eyes, specifically when their eyes continuously move up and to the right. The left side of the brain is the side where all creative functions are stored, thus when a person is looking up and to the right, they are actually utilizing the left side of their brain to come up with the specific fabrication of the truth. [3] When someone is lying they use the differnt part of their brain


Hand and Arm Signs

       When someone is lying they tend to rein in their hand and arm movements. Most liars are aware that most people have a basic understanding of body language and will therefore actively hold back on any actions in case they give something away. [6] Hand and arm movements have a tendency of increasing when a person is lying.


Feet and Leg Signs

      Someone who is not telling the truth will try to hide their feet under a table or chair. People also have a tendency of tapping their feet when they are not providing truthful statements. Leg crossing is also a common sign of lying because the person is trying to put up a guard against you. [6]


     When lying, the person's expression may feel and appear forced, stiff and limited. This is because the person is trying very hard to be "normal," while on the inside, they are feeling very uncomfortable with the position that they are in. [3] Their smile will seem like a polite smile, but with no sincerity behind it. [3] The emotions that a person is displaying will also feel uncomfortable to the receiver. Their emotions will either stay too long or end suddenly, without the natural flow that emotions typically have.


     Communication patterns haven't changed significantly over the years. Body language is an expression of how we feel on the inside and is, in general, instinctive. [3] This paper speaks particularly of lying and the art of body language, but body language is present in all of our interactions with other human beings. For instance, when we are interested in someone of the opposite sex, there are certain body movements that we know are attractive to the other sex without being taught them. [3] The technology of today has offered studies that interpret these cues, and have determined that they are not only essential to our communication with one another, but are instinctive. The media plays a large role in communication, and has offered ease in lying and ill communications with one another. 




Body Language in Relation to Media Ecology

      With technologicalleading the way to a less personal world of communication, it could be said that body language will become of less importance in years to come. Although computer technology allows us to communicate to people more frequently and immediately, it does not always convey the truth. Even with camera viewers and direct communication, what is shown on the camera, is still not what can be visually seen in person through body language. Body language is not always used for identification of a lie, but to feel the true expression of communication through the emotional attraction of natural body movements. Body language is also used to help determine what someone is trying to day, if one cannot fulling find the words they are trying to say a simple hand gesture can help the process of communication. In a world full of constantly changing technology, society is becoming less dependent on personal existence and more willing to accept new media. In a fast paced society, it can be clearly understood why someone would want something that makes their life easier, however, as Neil Postman has said, with new technology comes new problems. Learning styles have changed to an impersonal level of Online Learning where students and teachers can communicate through e-mail and Instant Messaging. Less curriculum is focused around The Book and involves private research on individual time via the Internet due to its ease and accessability.


     Body language has become popular amongst large groups of people, especially celebrities. Tonya Reiman, the author of The Power of Body Language: How to Succeed in Every Business and Social Encounter,offers help to the everyday person in creating the desired image that they are looking for. Reiman has been on many talk shows advising people to be more aware of their own presentation. A person can go online and view YouTube and Internet On-Demand Videos of Tonya Reiman and others who will point out what to look for in others as conversation continues. Employers are taking interest in body language to identify the true impression of their applicants during interviews and early hires. Law enforcement officers are taking courses to better understand communications in difficult situations, and to establish the truth during interviews and interrogations. These are only a few examples of the many people showing interest in the art and science of lying. It is apparent that this new field of study is progressing, as interest and awareness in the topic are increasing. 


     With the growth of technology many people do not like the radio for example, because you cannot tell if the person behind the microphone is being truthful or just reading off a sheet of paper. With the popularity of podcasts on the internet the secret world is exposed and the identification of lying is exposed.


[1]   G.J.C. "Faced with Emotion", Science Journal, 321, 5894; 1606-1608. Retrieved from EBSCO Host, online journal source.

[2]   Henley, Nancy. Body Politics: Power, Sex, and Non-Verbal Communication. Prentice Hall, 2007.

[3]   Ekman, Paul & Rosenberg, Erika. What the Face Reveals: Basic & Applied Studies of Spontaneous Expression Using the Facial Action Coding System (FACS); second edition. Oxford University Press, 2005.

[4]   Kuhnke, Elizabeth. "A Fascinating Guide to Communicating Without Words", Body Language for Dummies. West Sussex, England. 2007

[5]   Mehrabian, Albert and Ferris, Susan R. "Inference of Attitudes from Nonverbal Communication in Two Channels," Journal of Consulting Psychology, Vol 31, No. 3,, June 1967, pp.248-258 

[6]  Harlow, Jennifer. "Boday Language and Lying - Six Top Must Know Boday Language Signs That Will Tell You They're Lying" Retrieved from online website ezinarticles. 


Related Links

 Tonya Reiman: You Tube video: The Power of Body Language - Book Video http://youtube.com/watch?v=7cg192cQYUA 


The History Channel Online Store: Secrets of Body Language DVD. http://shop.history.com/detail.php?p=73929 
























































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