The Echoes of the Mind – Communication


“An individual does not communicate; he engages in or becomes part of communication.” ~ American anthropologist Ray Birdwhistell

The interdependence of people is abundantly demonstrated by their desire to communicate. However conducted, communication is the antithesis of apathy.

“As individuals engage in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication channels afford them a wealth of potential information.” ~ American communication scholar Judee Burgoon et al

The impulse behind communication is information, commonly aimed at reducing uncertainty. This need may be guised. Beyond apparent intention to its receiver, reassurance and words of comfort seek to maintain good relations.

“Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.” ~ Albanian Catholic sister Mother Teresa

People communicate every possible way: conversationally, nonverbally, and via printed, audio, and video media, including email and instant messaging. Communication accessible to large audiences forms the core of culture, which reflects the belief and value systems of a society.

“Many social problems can be traced to interpersonal communication difficulties, just as many proposed interventions to solve social ills also depend on effective interpersonal communication.” ~ Judee Burgoon et al

Human communication is a system with 5 central properties: interdependence, identity, hierarchy, openness, and equifinality.

Regular communication among people indicates a degree of interdependence. This interdependence creates an identity that defines the relationship among members in a group.

A change in a group is reflected by a change in communication. The stream of communication between a couple (dyad) changes as their relationship changes; so too with members of a larger group, and when a group loses or adds a member.

Human sociality tends toward hierarchies. Communication systems reflect this. The social context of communication is nested: intrapersonal, interpersonal, group, organizational, and societal.

“Making conversation involves more than anticipating when to begin speaking. It is a cooperative venture that requires adherence to the rules of social engagement.” ~ Dutch linguists Mark Dingemanse & Nick Enfield

Dynamic systems exhibit a degree of openness. The level and information content of communication within a group reflects its openness. Close-ended communication effectively suffocates the vitality of a group. In contrast, a more open communication system develops a homeostasis of self-regulation.

“Interpersonal communication is relationship; the events of acting toward and with one another.” ~ American communication scholars Aubrey Fischer & Katherine Adams

A closed system is deterministic, in that its end state (conclusion) is set by initial input. In contrast, open systems are equifinal: outputs may differ from inputs. This variability has a complement, in that different inputs may lead to similar outcomes. Communication openness and equifinality are intertwined.


“Nothing has meaning except in context.” ~ English anthropologist Gregory Bateson

The concept of information is inseparable from that of meaning. Communication is a process of conveying meaning. A message is a package of conveyed information which can have 3 possible meanings: 1) that intended by the sender, 2) that distinctly understood by the receiver, or 3) a common meaning.

A message’s meaning is interpreted within a context. A goodly part of that context relates to what has preceded the message during previous communication, either in the current session, or in reference to an earlier dialogue. Context may be beneficial to a relationship, or, conversely, corrosive.

“To discover the meaning or significance of communicative patterns is to place them in some context.” ~ Aubrey Fischer and & Katherine Adams

A message itself comes packaged in its own context, with implicit cues to the receiver as to how to interpret it in relation to the sender. This metamessage is always primary to the pertinent content of the message and is generally conveyed analogically (in conversation) by intonation or nonverbally, such as facial expression, gesture, or posture. (Metamessage in prose involves grammar and word choice.)

A common concern in interpreting metamessages is discerning the emotional context in which it was sent: the intrapersonal connotation, as contrasted to denotation. This is an effort fraught with subjective projection that easily leads to an erroneous conclusion. Instead, the essential necessity is to understand a sender’s behavior patter: the interpersonal connection. There can be no truer indication of what a person means than how that person behaves.

The meaning of interpersonal communication is a retrospective exercise. We look back on our interactions and define our relationships by them.

“A man’s character may be learned from the adjectives which he habitually uses in conversation.” ~ Mark Twain

Sharing an understanding is not the same as having the same understanding. Sharing an understanding is instead individual understandings that characteristically coincide. The sharing involves some conceptual overlap, but there can never be a single understanding between 2 people. Every concept a person holds has baggage attached: of experiential memory and associative meaning(s). These connections are never entirely selfsame for any dyad.

“To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.” ~ American life coach Tony Robbins

Cultural Context

Communication occurs in situational and environmental contexts which abet interpretation. Cultures – whether between 2 people or among millions – establish a context in which communication transpires.

Close friends exist in a high context: a smile, glance, or very few words convey much meaning. Conversely, strangers may struggle in acquaintance to establish a context. Their communication is low-context, and so must be specific and explicit to ensure proper conveyance of meaning. Courts of law and other societal institutions operate in low-context situations.

Cultures vary considerably in their degree of nominal context. East Asian countries – China, Japan, Korea – have high-context cultures, as do native Americans, black Americans, Latin Americans, and Mexican Americans. Eastern Mediterranean (including Greece and Turkey) and Arab cultures are also rather high-context.

In a high-context culture, much more is taken for granted and assumed to be shared, and consequently the overwhelming preponderance of messages are coded in such a way that they don’t have to be explicitly and verbally transmitted. ~ American communication scholars Myron Lustig & Jolene Koester

Asian cultures are so context-reliant partly owing to the influence of Buddhism, which places a high value on silence and observation of subtleties. Native Americans, with ancestral migratory roots in East Asia, are similar in having high-context cultures. The enslavement of African Americans instilled the need for a high-context culture to prevent provoking the cruel caprices of their “owners.”

Germany, Switzerland, the United States, Canada, and the Nordic countries are the lowest context countries.

Communication differs to a great degree between high- and low-context cultures. While nonverbal communication provides context for all conversations, people in high-context cultures are especially affected by these contextual clues.

Whereas communication in low-context cultures is explicit and overt, high-context cultures are quieter and more subtle. This affects how attractive people are perceived to be.

Verbose people are more appealing to Americans. Koreans are to the converse, finding quieter folk more pleasing.

A study of farewells at international airports found Asians from high-context cultures the least tactile people in the world.

People in high-context cultures expect greater responsiveness from unspoken cues, such as facial expressions and subtle gestures, than in low-context cultures.

Failing to recognize basic cultural differences in behavioral norms relating to context orientation leads to facile misattributions.

“People from low-context cultures are often perceived as excessively talkative, belaboring of the obvious, and redundant. People from high-context cultures may be perceived as nondisclosive, wasteful of time, sneaky, and mysterious.” ~ Peter Anderson

The Uses of Communication

“The communicating of ideas is not the chief and only end of language, as is commonly supposed. There are other ends, as the raising of some passion, the exciting to or deterring from an action, the putting the mind in some particular disposition.” ~ George Berkeley

Broadly, communication has 3 purposes: to inform, to influence, and to entertain. It is also often employed to express emotion, typically of some extremity. If there is any calculation behind such outbursts, it is invariably a ploy to influence.

“Language can be a way of hiding your thoughts and preventing communication.” ~ Abraham Maslow


“My idea of good company is the company of clever, well-informed people who have a great deal of conversation.” ~ English novelist Jane Austen

Conversation is communication commerce. Messages are sent and received, forming transactions. Each transaction is an information package about a topic. A deal is a summation of a communication session: the lasting impression that a receiver takes away.

“What’s the deal?” ~ American idiomatic expression (1950s)

A conversation begins with an initial greeting that establishes or reaffirms social bonds. The tone of a conversation is set in its greeting and influences the deal.

There’s a behavioral principle known as the expressivity halo – people who communicate in an expressive, animated fashion tend to be liked more than difficult-to-read people, even if they’re expressing something such as irritation. Because we’re more confident in our reading of them, they’re less of a threat. ~ American psychologist Frank Bernieri

A conversation substantially begins with feedforward: indication of what the primary, or at least initial, topic is. Feedforward is often used to frame a conversation. Sometimes the feedforward suggests that another person assume a certain role. This altercasting requests that the other person considers your message from a specific perspective.

Altercasting is a basic technique of interpersonal control. It is effective when the proposed role is congruent with the other person’s own goals. Altercasting is frequently used in advertising.

A feedforward may be a disclaimer, which is a plea to not judge prematurely or negatively. Disclaimers are used to bring up awkward subjects, either because the teller finds them difficult to disclose, though more commonly anticipated as hard for the listener to hear.

After feedforward, a conversation transitions to its business, which is the speaker’s initial stab at making an intentional transaction.

Certain subjects are cultural taboos for polite conversation, especially with those of other cultures. Religion and politics are common taboos. In some countries, race and social or economic status are taboo.

History is sometimes taboo. Mexicans do not want to hear of the Mexican–American War from Americans, nor do Southerners in the United States care for mention of the Civil War by Northerners. Talk of World War 2 to the Japanese is like pushing a bitter pill.

Feedback is the reverse of feedforward. Positive or negative, it either propels a conversation or shuts it down.

“There is no conversation more boring than the one where everybody agrees.” ~ French writer Michel de Montaigne

The closing ends a conversation. It often signals what the deal of the conversation will be.

Be wary of taking a deal. Studies indicate that those who are generally more confident about their judgments of others are in fact less accurate.

Gender Differences

Men and women communicate with different focuses, motivations, and styles. The differences stem from gender-based indoctrinations as well as innate inclinations. (The characterizations of these gender differences are generalities for which individual exceptions abound.)

Women use communication to connect. Men talk for information or entertainment, often with status and dominance in mind.

If women disagree it affects their relationship. Men may disagree and not think much about it.

Women use more words to make a point; men are more succinct. Men make more direct statements. Men are more analytical, women more emotive. Women are more vocally and facially expressive.

Men think a problem through privately, then express the solution as a bottom line. Women use conversation to collaboratively work through a problem. Men appear less intuitive and less aware of details than women.

Women are more likely to ask for help rather than trying to figure things out on their own. Men keep their problems to themselves.

Women give feedback with tact, tentativeness, and sensitivity to others’ feelings. Men are direct with their feedback, without the intention of it being taken personally. Women tend to take verbal rejection more personally than men.

Men tend to finish one topic before moving on to the next. Women are more apt to topically meander before returning.

Women talk more about relationships. Men talk more about events and accomplishments.


“I’d take it back, but time won’t let me.” ~ American musician John Hiatt in the song “Tip of My Tongue” (1987)

There is no stronger vector to time than in a conversation: it is irreversible. Retraction for what has been said is impossible. One can only try to repair damage.

Just as communication problems are universal, so too their repair techniques.

There would be little adaptive value in a complex communication system like human language if there were no ways to detect and correct problems. There is a universal system for the real-time resolution of the frequent breakdowns in communication. Unrelated languages share the same 3 functionally distinct types of repair initiator for signaling problems and use them in the same kinds of contexts. People prefer to choose the type that is the most specific possible; a principle that minimizes cost both for the sender being asked to fix the problem and for the dyad as a social unit. Disruption to the conversation is kept to a minimum. ~ Mark Dingemanse et al

An apology is the most straightforward remedy. A more common and often ineffective response is an excuse.

“It is better to offer no excuse than a bad one.” ~ American general and politician George Washington

Excuses are typically proffered after saying something that runs counter to expectation or easy sanction to its listener(s). If effective, excuses act as a social lubricant. If not, they act like sand in Vaseline.

The modus operandi for excuses is learned by example in early childhood. Unless consciously changed, those experienced patterns become the default behavioral template for the rest of one’s life.

Excuses fall into 3 categories: denial (“I didn’t do it”), minimization (“It wasn’t so bad”), and extenuating circumstance (“Yes, but…”).

“He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else.” ~ Benjamin Franklin

Eloquent excuse makers employ 3 basic strategies: 1) relate the mistake to situational reality, 2) point out that anyone else in the same situation would have done as poorly, 3) convey the impression that the mistake was atypical, not normal behavior, and out of character.

The best excuses are simple (back to an apology being better than any excuse). Blaming someone else and forgetfulness are sure losers. An excuse that smells like a lie simply digs a deeper hole. Being tagged as a chronic excuse-maker ruins credibility.

99% of the failures come from people who have the habit of making excuses. ~ American botanist George Washington Carver

Men and women excuse themselves differently: women are better at excuses than men.

“Men use more rudimentary excuses. Women tend to be more facile verbally. They are perhaps more sensitive to cues and situations and what might actually work.” ~ American psychologist Charles Synder


“Most conversations are about social information.” ~ German evolutionary ecologist Ralf Sommerfeld et al

Gossip is a common and universal business. Gossip begins in early adolescence and plays an important role in social development.

“The only time people dislike gossip is when you gossip about them.” ~ American wit Will Rogers

Gossip is a common vehicle for stabilizing a shared sense of reality. This somewhat compensates for not receiving veridical feedback from others.

“All gossip involves social comparison.” ~ American social psychologists Sarah Wert & Peter Salovey

Gossip yields social learning, promotes group solidarity, clarifies group norms and enforces their conformity, helps solve social problems, and calibrates beliefs.

Gossip is saying behind their back what you would not say to their face. Flattery is saying to their face what you would not say behind their back. ~Anonymous

“Whoever gossips to you will gossip about you.” ~ Spanish proverb

Gossip serves to monitor cooperative reputations, and so serves to track indirect reciprocity. Reputation is influential in cooperation dynamics.

“No one gossips about other people’s secret virtues.” ~ Bertrand Russell

“Gossip is when you hear something you like about someone you don’t.” ~ American journalist Earl Wilson

As a form of violence, gossip spreads rumors. It may socially empower its provider while disempowering its target.

“The biggest liar in the world is ‘They Say.'” ~ American poet Douglas Malloch

“If you haven’t got anything nice to say about anybody, come sit next to me.” ~ American socialite Alice Roosevelt Longworth

Nonverbal Communication

“There is language in her eye, her cheek, her lip.” ~ English playwright and poet William Shakespeare

Nonverbal communication occurs without words: a metamessage that accompanies what is spoken.

“What you do speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

The bulk of interpersonal conveyance is nonverbal. In comprehending a conversation, only 7% comes from the words said. Tone of voice and pace of speech accounts for 38%. 55% is conveyed by facial expression and body language.

Much nonverbal communication occurs subconsciously, both in transmission and reception. Impressions register and are fed back.

“The ability to communicate nonverbally is at the core of social intellect.” ~ Nalini Ambady & American social psychologist Max Weisbuch

Verbal languages are culturally bound. Nonverbal communication does have cultural aspects, which are inculcated during childhood; but much nonverbal transmission is a product of evolutionary descent, and so transcends culture. A smile is universally understood, as is the look of anger.

“Early impressions are hard to eradicate from the mind. When once wool has been dyed purple, who can restore it to its previous whiteness?” ~ Latin Christian priest Jerome

Initial impressions are invariably a product of stereotyping, which is an innate heuristic. People seek to reduce uncertainty in initial encounters, and so suss what they can from instant appearance.

“We often make a number of instant social judgments about people on the basis of their physical characteristics and on the basis of their behavior. These judgments, quick and without reflection, may be extremely important for subsequent social interaction.” ~ English psychologists Geoffrey Beattie & Heather Shovelton

Unsurprisingly, people who smile are deemed more likable and approachable than those who do not or who pretend to smile.

“Skill in nonverbal communication is part of social competence.” ~ American communication scholar Mark Knapp & American social psychologist Judith Hall

Nonverbal communication can be a gating factor to verbal communication reaching its audience with any effectiveness whatsoever.

“The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.” ~ Austrian-born American management consultant Peter Drucker

Nonverbal communication may accent, complement, or reinforce the oral message; or it may contradict it. A receiver may not consciously notice incongruity, but it will register. In the instance of inconsistency between a vocal message and its nonverbal communication, people believe what was expressed but not said.

“The body says what words cannot. The body never lies.” ~ Martha Graham


Paralanguage (aka vocalics) is the vocal prosody of speech: how a person talks, not what is said. This involves the nonverbal elements of the voice, including tone, pitch, intonation, stress, loudness, rate, and cadence.

In the company of other men, males subconsciously adjust the pitch of their voice higher or lower depending on their assessment of where they stand in the dominance hierarchy.

Women universally agree that a lower-pitched male voice is more attractive. Men with lower voices tend to have higher levels of testosterone, the hormone associated with virility. A woman’s attraction to men with deep voices is most pronounced when she is in the fertile phase of her ovulatory cycle.

Metacommunication is secondary transmission that intimates how information is meant to be interpreted: purposeful paralanguage.

Paralanguage provides an unspoken context, including humorous, ironic, or sarcastic intent; it encompasses elements of language not encoded by grammar or vocabulary choice. Depending upon tone of voice, “yes” may indicate agreement, affirmation, reluctance, confusion, boredom, impatience, hostility, affection, seduction, intimacy, or a multitude of other meanings.

As with other nonverbal communication cues, vocalics affects spoken message interpretation one of 6 ways: reinforce, emphasize, complement, substitute, regulate, or contradict.

Nonverbal cues reinforce with redundancy. They emphasize with enthusiasm or accent with gravitas. Paralanguage complements by putting a slightly different spin on what is said.

Vocalic expressions may substitute for saying something. A yawn, laugh, “duh” or “uh-huh” carries its own meaning.

Nonverbal cues may regulate or control verbal communication. Filler pauses (e.g., “um” or audible air intake) at the end of sentences are employed by the slow-witted to preclude interjection or interruption. (Sharp, disciplined minds speak smoothly with sufficient speed to need no such crutch.) Likewise, silence or audible exhalation at the end of a sentence suggests that the monologue has concluded.

Finally, vocalics can contradict what is being said. In acquiescing to a request with evident distaste or boredom, the nonverbal message may trump the spoken one.

“Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit but the highest form of intelligence.” ~ Oscar Wilde

Sarcasm is a vocalic cue that is frequently misunderstood. Young children and those with little education or low intelligence often have trouble detecting sarcasm, though it is occasionally difficult for anyone to tell if a statement is meant seriously or sarcastically. This is particularly true when lacking familiarity with the speaker’s personality.

People use paralanguage cues to judge the sincerity, emotional state, and even personality of the speaker. This becomes more difficult with those who are not native speakers.

Some emotions are easier to identify than others. It is easy to distinguish between anger and empathy, but difficult to discern anxiety from fear.

Listeners and speakers vary in their competence to respectively decode and encode emotions; such a statement may (of course) be generalized to social awareness, but sussing emotions is a specific skill.

Discerning personality – and even disposition – via paralanguage is problematic. Soft speakers may be misinterpreted as insecure, or loud talkers as egoists.

People who speak quickly are typically judged more intelligent and objective. Though cognitive quality varies, it does take a quick mind to speak quickly. A cogent, rapid speaker can be quite persuasive.

Speaking quickly is efficient communication. Comprehension drops only 5% via increasing speech rate by 50% from average. A 100% rapidity rate lessens comprehension by only 10%. After that, comprehension begins to fall dramatically.

Vocalics create distinct impressions of the individual speaking. Appealing, influential voices are relaxed, resonant, and lower-pitched (especially for men). They are less nasal, less monotonous, less shrill, and less regionally accented.

Nasal voices especially elicit negative impression. In the United States, Midwestern voices tend to be the most accent-free, and while those of the Northeast the most nasal.

Gender Differences

Biology yields gender-specific voices. After puberty, male vocal cords thicken, lowering average pitch.

Both sexes may exaggerate their vocalic differences: men preferring audible gravel, women a breathy soprano. Some homosexual men affect a feminine voice to distinguish themselves as a gender group.

Women are socialized to employ their voices differently than men: more vocal variation, often ending sentences in a pitch uplift, implying a qualified or even uncertain statement. Men – associating volume with power – are louder. Males are more likely than females to lapse into negatively perceived vocal dysfluencies, including false starts, stutters, and interruptions.

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“One of the most robust differences between the sexes is women’s superior nonverbal ability.” ~ Peter Anderson

Women are more sensitive and accurate readers – and better senders – of nonverbal communication cues than men. Females have better recall of nonverbal cues. They are also the superior sex in recognizing faces.

Women are more emotive in their facial expressions during interactions than men: they tend to show what they are thinking. Females are generally more expressive than males, particularly in conveying positive emotion messages. Women readily encode every facial expression except anger.


Smiling is the most significant gender distinction in facial expressions. Women smile more easily and more often than men. Men smile with satisfaction. Women smile to encourage others. They may also nod to signal empathic support. Neither of these nonverbal cues necessarily indicate agreement with the speaker.

Smiling evolved in primates as a display of submission. So it is with human females, who must appease dominant males.

Whereas girls are rewarded for smiling, young boys are taught to suppress their emotional displays. Women smile in a wider variety of contexts than men, including when uncomfortable or tense.

Women smile as a come-on. Women smile with a closed mouth to indicate they are ready to be kissed but show their teeth when initiating a kiss.

The coy smile females use in flirtation has no male counterpart. This relates to the fact that men use anger in their facial expressions much more than women. Smiling interferes with a male’s ability to intimidate rivals.

Gender aside, some individuals smile more than others. Whereas men who smile a lot consider themselves sociable, women with an easy smile think themselves feminine.

 Hostility & Anger

Display of hostility by males is a more socially-acceptable than it is for females. Men are more prone to show their anger than women. Facial expressions of anger are more quickly and easily recognized from males than females. Anger is a more expected expression from men than women, even for submissive men. While females are perfectly capable of showing anger, angry women are often perceived as sad.

“Even children as young as 5 years will tend to consider a crying baby as “mad” when the baby is purported to be a boy, but not when it is purported to be a girl.” ~ Canadian psychologist Ursula Hess et al


The social acceptability of other emotional expressions is also gender related. Women show fear more frequently than men, though there is no gender difference in its experience.

It is more acceptable for females, even expected, to react openly with sadness in distressing situations: to cry, withdraw, and express remorse. Hysteria was long supposed a female condition, considered abnormal only when prolonged or in extreme display. Men are expected to stay more composed, with limited display of grief.

These differences emerge early in life. Neonatal girls tend to cry more than boys in response to another baby’s cries, but not to other sounds.

Support for the evolutionary perspective is found in the fact that females are especially adept at judging negative affective cues. This acumen is essential to child-rearing.

“Females are “wired” from birth to be especially sensitive to nonverbal cues, or especially quick learners of such cues. This would make evolutionary sense, because nonverbal sensitivity on a mother’s part might enable her to detect distress in her youngsters or threatening signals from other adults, thus enhancing the survival chances of her offspring.” ~ Judith Hall

Men generally speak louder than women. Girls are taught from an early age to moderate their voices, while boys are encouraged to speak up.

The social pressure on boys to curtail their emotional expressions retards their communication skills. So, besides innate gender differences, males are put at a disadvantage in learning to communicate effectively.

Some studies find that men interrupt more than women during conversations. Others discern no gender difference. Irrespective of gender, cross-sex interruptions are more frequent than in same-sex conversations.

The Body

“What we learn only through the ears makes less impression upon our minds than what is presented to the trustworthy eye.” ~ Roman poet Horace

Nonverbal communication goes beyond paralanguage, facial expressions, body posture, and gestures. It involves all aspects of presentation and presence. Presentation begins with the person: appearance, clothes, way of walking, and smell. Without saying a word or making a meaningful gesture, physical appearance is a strong communicator.

“Sometimes one creates a dynamic impression by saying something, and sometimes one creates as significant an impression by remaining silent.” ~ Tibetan Buddhist leader Dalai Lama

Height bias is biological, existing in every culture. Attractive tall people are especially esteemed. Tall men are more likely to be hired, offered higher starting salaries, and given more prominent positions.

For women, height as attractive has its limits. Whereas height always suggests manly power, especially when coupled with an athletic physique, tall women are often judged as ungainly or uncomfortably overpowering by some males, especially the short ones. A female’s only possible social compensation comes in submissive posture and gestures.

 Attractiveness Stereotype

People often facilely link physical allure – especially an attractive face – to a wide variety of positive attributes. This bias is the attractiveness stereotype.

The social advantages of being physically attractive – including employment and mating opportunities – are enormous. Understandably, going through life as attractive helps self-esteem.

“Tradition has it that fat men are jolly and generous, that lean men are dour, that short men are aggressive, and that strong men are silent and confident.” ~ William Sheldon

In a study of simulated juries 93% of participants said that physical appearance should not bias verdicts. They then proceeded to evaluate attractive people as less likely to be guilty, and given less severe punishments, than those less attractive.

Such treatment begins in childhood. Adults react more leniently to bad behavior by an attractive child than to the same act by an unappealing youngster.

Of children with identical academic records, teachers evaluate cute ones as smarter than those who are unattractive. This bias translates into consequence.

“Teacher’s expectations have an enormous impact on student’s performance.” ~ American sociologists Margaret Clifford & Elaine Walster

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Following in the footsteps of Galton, American psychologist William Sheldon was interested in the influence of body type on intelligence, behavior, and social standing. In the 1940s he classified 3 basic body types: ectomorphs, mesomorphs, and endomorphs. Sheldon called these somatotypes.

An ectomorph is gracile. A mesomorph has an athletic build. An endomorph is wide-bodied and rotund.

Sheldon hypothesized that body type and personality were correlated. Sheldon’s work was criticized as biased and even fraudulent, but his ideas are commonly accepted. (Sheldon’s assistant, Barbara Roll, publicly denounced Sheldon for falsifying the data he used, and having his conclusions set before finishing his research.)

“People believe that different temperaments go with different body builds.” ~ American psychologists William Wells & Bertram Siegel

People tend to discriminate by body type, particularly against endomorphs, who are stereotypically perceived as indolent, sloppy, slow, and stupid.

Male ectomorphs are stereotypically considered skittish and frail, but also studious and intelligent. Female ectomorphs share the stereotype to a degree, but are perceived much more positively than males, partly because many people, particularly women, desire to be thin, and thin women are generally considered attractive.

Mesomorphs are the most positively perceived group, considered powerful and healthy. Mesomorphs are frequently chosen as leaders. One the flip side, attractive mesomorphs may be saddled with a perceived vanity preconception. The more athletic ones face the dumb jock stereotype.

There appears to be an innate quality to these attributions, as both children and adults tend toward the foregoing stereotypes. By a blend of cultural and biological inclination physique is subject to stereotypic prejudices.

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“Sometimes we either gravitate toward people or away from them not because of a large prejudice but just because there’s something a little bit more- or less-familiar about them.” ~ Anne Wilson

Similarity is familiarity, which typically goes down well.

“People tend to think that someone who looks a little more like them is more likely to think like them. If you expect someone to be more like you, you might behave toward them in a more open and likable way.” ~ Anne Wilson

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Even teachers think that physically attractive students are smarter, with more academic potential and better social skills.

Stereotypes can create self-fulfilling prophecies. Treating an attractive child as intelligent may improve savvy through bolstered self-esteem, thereby attaining a consistency with expectations. Physically unattractive people tend to be bullied at work: abuse that can only hurt job performance.

Of course, first impressions may mislead, and are not necessarily lasting. With greater exposure, the power of appearance can attenuate. Bias yields to actuality, whereupon personal and relational cues channel the course of an interpersonal relationship.

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Stereotype often determines the nature of encounters, and whether they even occur. Many relationships begin with anticipation formed by stereotypic attraction.

“he old adage you can’t judge a book by its cover may be good advice, but it is difficult to follow.” ~ American psychologist Vicki Ritts et al


As a form of nonverbal signaling, body posture creates an impression of attitude. Posture can tell how interested, respectful, or open to ideas someone is. Postural cues can suggest affinity or distaste.

When someone is interested while sitting, they lean forward and draw back their legs. Conversely, someone bored adopts a lethargic posture: leaning back, dropping the head, leaning it to one side and supporting with one hand, and stretching out the legs.

Agreement and openness are parallel postures: the body is relaxed, perhaps leaning to one side, arms down or out. Disagreement is displayed by a vigilant, closed posture: head erect, arms folded, legs crossed.

Posture can indicate dominance or submission. A man standing straight, chest forward with hands on his hips is showing dominance. Conversely, making oneself smaller can appease and inhibit human aggression. As with other mammals, such postures are innate biological behaviors.

Full attention is displayed by facing another person with head and body. Between equals, this is an indication of liking rather than respect.

Similarity in postures – termed postural congruence or postural echo – also signals liking. Mirror-image postural echoes indicates interpersonal rapport. Postural dissimilarity often indicates differences in attitude or status.

In social situations people control their facial expressions better than their bodies, which can give away what they really feel. This is nonverbal leakage.


Although people often verbally reveal emotions, nonverbal emotional displays are more potent conveyors. The most extensively studied aspect of nonverbal communication is kinesics, which is the interpretation of body motion, such as facial expressions and gestures.

“A great deal of information is communicated even in fleeting glimpses of expressive behavior.” ~ Nalini Ambady & American psychologist Robert Rosenthal

Many nonverbal communication displays are common to all primates; others are cultural. Northeast Asians and northern Europeans are relatively restrained in their nonverbal displays compared to southern Europeans, Africans, or Mexicans.

Kinesic behaviors culturally differ in their intensities. Northern Europeans and Americans seem unexpressive to most Italians, Greeks, or Egyptians. Conversely, the gestural fervor of Mediterranean people strikes many Americans as overly emotional, and even undignified.

US Vice President Richard Nixon visited Venezuela in 1956. During a public speech, he twice flashed the “a-ok” hand emblem. It provoked rioting. In Venezuela, that gesture is used the same way that “flipping the bird” is in the US. (The scurrilous middle-finger jerk, popular among agitated Americans, dates at least to classical times as a sign of abuse. The ancient Romans called the gesture digitus impudicus.)

In China, Italy, and Columbia, moving the fingers back and forth toward one’s body signals goodbye. American use that gesture to indicate “come here.”

 The Face

“The features of our face are hardly more than gestures which force of habit has made permanent.” ~ Marcel Proust

In its sublime expressiveness, the furless face of humans is a rich source of information, the eyes especially so. The face is more than a mere window into an emotional world: it is the primary evolved channel for interpersonal communication.

“Face processing in newborns is relatively well-developed and does not differ significantly from that seen in adults.” ~ Italian psychologist Teresa Farroni et al

 Facial Expressions

“There are no blank facial expressions.” ~ Peter Anderson

As with other aspects of nonverbal communication, facial expressions are rooted in biology. That withstanding, certain facial expressions are culturally engendered, others tolerated, and some suppressed.

Infants only a few days old pay attention to objects that look like faces. By 6 months, preference for faces is pronounced. Furthermore, babies reflexively smile at faces. But an infant will not smile at a face with the eyes, or even one eye, covered.

There are 8 innate emotive facial expressions that appear to carry universal meaning: happiness, sadness, fear, anger, surprise, disgust, contempt, and embarrassment.

Facial expressions are a social phenomenon. Smiling, for instance, occurs primarily in the presence of others, not merely as a reflection of internal emotional state.

“Without wearing any mask we are conscious of, we have a special face for each friend.” ~ American physician and poet Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.


The more involved a person is in socially interacting the more smiles appear. The more positive the smile the more that person is esteemed. Even infants less than a year old use anticipatory smiles to share positive emotions.

“Emotion does not leak out into the interpersonal world. Instead, intentions are shared, transmitted, or coordinated between faces.” ~ English psychologist Brian Parkinson

A certain pattern of smiling relates to culture. Cultures may have different display rules: folkways which dictate how individuals should express themselves. Display rules are often related to social distance, which is the expectation of privacy in a social setting.

In the US and many other countries, smiling is a common gesture of good will. The relatively low baseline social trust of strangers and high social distance of white Americans is offset somewhat by smiling as a signal of ingratiation.

By contrast, Russians, with a higher sense of social trust, have a closer social distance than Amereicans. Smiling is less a necessity as a social grace.

Russian mothers report their infants more likely to exhibit negative emotions, and show lower levels of positive emotive expression, than American mothers of their babies. This may well be because Russian mothers are more themselves around their children, not putting on the smiling pretense that American mothers indulge their babies with.

American offspring learn early that smiling is an important social cue: one that doesn’t necessarily reflect true feeling but serves as a social signal. Russian youngsters don’t learn that lesson about smiling.

American toddlers more likely to express positive emotions have better self-control. There is no such correlation in Russian youngsters between inclination to smile and self-control.

The payoff for smiling young Americans is considerable. American parents and teachers generally think better of grinning children. Russian caregivers don’t see any link between a kid who smiles a lot and their manners or acumen.


Although facial expressions are primarily innate, their displays become managed through cultural upbringing. Children also learn that feigned emotion displays can be effective in certain contexts. As well they discover to discern between genuine smiles and those that are counterfeit.

Facial affect management comes via 5 display rules:

1) simulation: showing feelings when they are not felt,

2) intensification: displaying more than felt,

3) diminution: displaying less than felt,

4) inhibition: not showing what is felt, and

5) masking: covering one feeling with display of another.

Although these rules are acquired early, they are typically not mastered until adulthood, if at all.

As a product of upbringing, cultures differ in their degree of facial expressivity. Year-old Chinese babies are less emotionally expressive than Japanese, European, or American infants.

As a social norm in most cultures, part of supposed emotional maturation into adulthood is learning to lessen display of emotions. This is particularly true for men.

As freedom is a paramount value in individualistic cultures, emotive facial expressions are spontaneously displayed. In contrast, in collectivist cultures, such as in northeast Asia, facial expressions are moderated. People from collectivist cultures are also less likely to recognize certain facial expressions, especially negative ones, as display rules proscribe their production.

 The Eyes

“Eye contact is way more intimate than words will ever be.” ~ Indian author Faraaz Kazi

As we use our eyes to see, they are usually thought of as information receivers; yet they play a vital role in social interaction.

A unique evolutionary adaptation accompanied the descent of humans in the eyes, one that facilitates the strong signaling role that these orbs play: humans are the only one of 221 primates that have whites of the eyes which are easily seen. The sclera of chimpanzees, our closest relative, is brown; as is the case with most apes and monkeys.

Oculesics goes to the meanings in the eyes: making and sustaining eye contact, blinks, eye movement, and pupil dilation. Gazing is one person looking at another. Eye contact occurs when 2 people look each other in the eye.

From birth babies can detect eye contact and gaze direction. Infants prefer people that engage them in eye contact. Within 3 months babies employ eye contact in elaborate interactions with adult caregivers.

By 5 years of age children infer the preferences of others by watching whom and what they are looking at. The longer the gaze the more youngsters assume attraction.

Interpersonal communication typically involves considerable eye contact. In many cultures, conversing without eye contact is considered rude, disinterested, shy, and/or deceptive.

As an indicator of mood, the eyes are the most reliable facial feature. The mouth may deceive but the eyes are an honest signal.

“Humans can read highly complex mental states from the eyes of other humans.” ~ American psychologists Daniel Lee & Adam Anderson”

As an evolutionary adaptation, eyes widen to enhance overall awareness of a scene, or narrow to sharpen focus. Emotively, eye widening shows surprise or fear. Narrowing the eyes suggests skepticism or disgust.

Conveyance of mental states via the eyes align with the physical mechanics of sight. Because of this, the eyes cannot lie.

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Looking at the eyes of another is such a powerful communication act that it must be carefully controlled. People commonly restrict eye contact to brief glances; but, upon occasion, eye contact unleashes its power by sustainment: either gazing lovingly or fixing a stare of hostility.

Eye contact is always influential. Gaze can be positively persuasive. Conversely, avoiding eye contact creates a strong negative impression.

In every culture there are strict but unspoken rules for the proper duration of eye contact. The average American gaze lasts 2.95 seconds.

Nominal mutual gaze duration is 1.18 seconds. Any shorter and a person is perceived as uninterested, shy, or preoccupied. Lingering mutual gaze intimates unusually high interest.

Eye contact serves several communication functions:

1) expressing interest and signaling attentiveness, including flirtation,

2) increasing interpersonal immediacy and intimacy,

3) facilitating processing emotional information from an interactant,

4) monitoring and regulating interaction, including turn-taking signals, and

5) indicating cognition when eye contact is broken.

  Differing Eyes

Women are more visually oriented than men in nonverbal communication. Females look more at others, attempt more to make eye contact, and are also looked at more than males. This gender difference is apparent even in early childhood.

“Females are more likely to understand others in the presence of visual contact while males understand other better in the absence of visual contact.” ~ Dutch communication scientist Roderick Swaab & Dutch neurobiologist Dick Swaab

The lowest levels of oculesic activity are between 2 men conversing, the highest between 2 women. In mixed-sex dyads, females accommodate to the male-gaze behavior norm. This is one factor why women typically feel more at ease talking with other women: more mutual eye contact and supportive gazes affords greater intimacy.

Females employ more short glances as flirtation signals, but their greater eye contact persists in long-term married couples.

Eye contact enables homosexuals to indicate to each other their sexual preference: an ability known as gaydar.

In primates, the less-powerful, more-submissive group members are more visually attentive, and especially wary of the more dominant animals. As the subjugated sex, the oculesic behavior of women is understandable from this sociobiological perspective. Yet gazing is sometimes associated with more social power, not less. Females employ eye contact to attain superior sociality.

Personality type also effects gaze. Extroverts look at other people more than introverts.

Individuals also differ in affiliation need. Some people are more emotively reliant upon social contact than others; they too tend to be lookers.

Culture also influences looking style during conversation. Those that favor contact – Arabs, Latin Americans, and southern Europeans – stand much closer, touch more often, and exchange more eye contact. This can be unsettling for those not used to such intimate social interaction and can lead to misunderstanding.

The levels of nonverbal intercourse during conversation that non-contact cultures practice can be interpreted by those from a contact culture as insincerity, dishonesty, or, at best, impoliteness. Conversely, Americans and northern Europeans may feel contact-culture patterns are disrespectful, insulting, or even threatening.


People trust those who look them in the eye. Good liars know this: thus, much trust is misplaced.

 The Face

“The features of our face are hardly more than gestures which force of habit has made permanent.” ~ Marcel Proust

In its sublime expressiveness, the furless face of humans is a rich source of information, the eyes especially so. The face is more than a mere window into an emotional world: it is the primary evolved channel for interpersonal communication.

“Face processing in newborns is relatively well-developed and does not differ significantly from that seen in adults.” ~ Italian psychologist Teresa Farroni et al


Although facial expressions are primarily innate, their displays become managed through cultural upbringing. Children also learn that feigned emotion displays can be effective in certain contexts. As well they discover to discern between genuine smiles and those that are counterfeit.

Facial affect management comes via 5 display rules:

1) simulation: showing feelings when they are not felt,

2) intensification: displaying more than felt,

3) diminution: displaying less than felt,

4) inhibition: not showing what is felt, and

5) masking: covering one feeling with display of another.

Although these rules are acquired early, they are typically not mastered until adulthood, if at all.

As a product of upbringing, cultures differ in their degree of facial expressivity. Year-old Chinese babies are less emotionally expressive than Japanese, European, or American infants.

As a social norm in most cultures, part of supposed emotional maturation into adulthood is learning to lessen display of emotions. This is particularly true for men.

As freedom is a paramount value in individualistic cultures, emotive facial expressions are spontaneously displayed. In contrast, in collectivist cultures, such as in northeast Asia, facial expressions are moderated. People from collectivist cultures are also less likely to recognize certain facial expressions, especially negative ones, as display rules proscribe their production.


In a human confrontation, staring someone down is often an effective means of putting them into a submissive role. The person who looks away is put on the defensive.

Objection to be stared at is age-old in most cultures. Superstitious belief in the evil eye still lurks worldwide.

Most people think they can sense if they are being stared at. Though the means remains mysterious, repeated studies suggest that staring detection has an evidentiary basis.

  Conversational Eyes

Dyad conversations are guided by the eyes. Though other signals are employed, turn-taking is neatly arranged by a characteristic pattern of looking, eye contact, and looking away.

Attention capture through eye contact is necessary to start any conversation. Typically, you look at the eyes of a person; as soon as they look back you can begin speaking. Eye contact may be prompted by remark, such as “excuse me.”

As soon as conversation begins, the speaker looks away. Usually a listener will look more than the person talking. To show responsiveness and interest, a listener needs to look at the speaker’s face 75% of the time, in glances lasting 1–7 seconds.

Women generally listen more attentively than men. This is true too in gaze during conversation.

Meanwhile, the speaker looks at the listener less than half the time: just enough to maintain intermittent eye contact. These glances rarely last more than a second each; anything much greater can be uncomfortable for either the speaker or listener, or for both participants.

Eye contact is reestablished to initiate response. In easy, relaxed conversation, a speaker acknowledges with at least a nod.

The easiest way that a speaker can avert being interrupted is to avoid the listener’s gaze. If eye contact cannot be established, a listener has a hard time politely interrupting. Such a tactic may backfire socially: while the speaker may make his point, a sour impression lingers in the listener.

The remedy for someone who won’t let you get a word in edgewise is to withdraw gaze attention. Look to one side in a way that affords noticing when the speaker finally looks at you; which will eventually happen in hopes that you have been paying attention. At this point, meet the speaker’s gaze and take your turn.

  Eyeing Questions

If you ask someone a question, they may meet your inquiring eyes then look away. Those who look away to the right are likely more scientifically minded. Those who look left tend to be more artistic or religious. But it makes a difference the question asked. Language questions, such as how to spell a word, are dealt with in the left hemisphere of the brain, prompting gaze to slide right. (Generally, the left side of the brain is instrumental in controlling right-side body functions and vice versa.)

Spatiality is the province of the brain’s right side. A question on how to get somewhere leads to a look away to the left.


“Blinking plays an important role in impression formation.” ~ Japanese psychologists Yasuko Omori & Yo Miyata

Excessive blinking is perceived as indicating nervousness, carelessness, or unfriendliness. It actually occurs when nervous, during intense cognition, or with a feeling of flirtatiousness.

  The Pupils

The pupils of the eyes have a subtle but significant effect on interpersonal relationships. Pupils dilate when a person is aroused, including experiencing positive affect or attraction for another person. (Any arousal will do. People’s pupils dilate when surprised, such as when perceiving a mistake.) This dilation is unconsciously perceived during interaction and increases attraction.

One study showed participants 2 photographs of a mother holding her baby. The photos were identical in every respect except one had been retouched to show the mother with dilated pupils. Asked “which mother loves her baby more?”, the consistent answer was the one with dilated eyes, though the attribution for this conclusion was almost always wrong: exemplary replies included “she has a warmer smile” and “she’s holding her baby closer.”

Heterosexual men find females with dilated pupils more attractive, subconsciously seeing them as being sexually receptive. A man’s own pupils naturally dilate in response to viewing such a woman.

In contrast, women prefer their peers to have smaller pupils, as it cuts down on the potential competition. Such strong subconsciously based preferences indicate how much people naturally defer to their biological programming.

Infants respond positively to adults with dilated pupils. A study to verify this found that babies are not the only ones affected. American psychologist Janet Ashear studied infants while their mothers were present. When she appeared with artificially enlarged pupils, the mothers found her “young,” “open,” “gentle,” and even “naïve.” Conversely, coming with constricted pupils, the mothers said that she seemed “harsh,” “brassy,” “cold,” “evasive,” and “sneaky.”


“We respond to gestures with an extreme alertness, and with an elaborate and secret code that is written nowhere, known by none, and understood by all.” ~ Edward Sapir

Human hands are both dexterous and expressive. Inclinations to manipulate objects and employ the hands communicatively are both innate.

Gestures are a complement to spoken language. Gestures are both inborn and culturally imbibed. The gestures that accompany speech are often critical to conveyance.

Gestures are so habitual that most people gesture when talking on the phone. Speakers are more fluent when gesturing.

There are 5 types of movements that send nonverbal messages: emblems, illustrators, affect displays, regulators, and adaptors.

Emblems are gestures that directly translate into words or phrases, such as a thumbs-up for “good job.” While “thumbs up” indicates to Europeans and North Americans “all is well,” to Greeks and Turks it signifies anal penetration, and is considered quite insulting. Also provocative in Greek culture is an open palm held facing a person with fingers extended. Known as “the hand of Moutza,” it represents an ancient practice most modern users know nothing of. In Byzantine times, chained criminals were paraded through town sitting backwards on a donkey, their faces blackened with cinder that had been smeared by an open hand. Ordering 5 drinks in a Greek bar via gesture can be a bit tricky.

Illustrators enhance a verbal message, such as pointing to indicate a given direction. There are 8 commonly used illustrators:

1) batons: emphasize particular words or phrases,

2) ideographs: to sketch an idea or relationship,

3) pointers: to indicate an object, place, or event,

4) spatials: movements depicting sizes or relations,

5) rhythmics: indications of timing, pace, or rhythm,

6) kinetographics: depictions of bodily or other physical actions,

7) pictographs: gestures that draw pictures, and

8) emblematics: gestural emblems, such as making a circular motion next to one’s temple while saying “he’s crazy.”

Affect displays communicate emotional meaning; they are typically spontaneous, and even unconscious.

Regulators are behaviors that monitor or attempt to control a speaker. Affirmatively nodding the head indicates that the speaker should continue. In contrast, leaning forward and opening the mouth shows that the listener has something to say.

Adaptors are gestures satisfying some personal need. They are irrelevant to the conversation topic and may even present a distraction.

A self-adaptor is some self-touching movement, such as rubbing the nose. An alter-adaptor is directed at the speaker, such as folding the arms in front to keep others at a comfortable distance. An object-adaptor are gestures related to objects.

Nonverbal messages can help communicate unpleasant messages, or intimate something that one is uncomfortable putting into words.

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As aforementioned, certain gestures are culturally specific. The preferential way that gestures are used can also be a product of culture. For example, Jews and Italians have distinctive gestural styles.

The traditional Jewish style is ideographic: hands trace in the air the direction of thought. Gestures reflect the structure and progress of a conversation. Italians, particularly southerners, use gestures to pictographically punctuate speech. Whereas Jewish hands are like pointers linking parts of a conversation, Italian hands are metaphorical pencils. While non-speakers can probably get the gist of an Italian conversation, gestures leave the import of a Jewish conversation beyond reach.

These gestural styles reflect cultural evolution. The Jews have a history of being discriminated against and worse stretching millennia. Inscrutable gestures serve a desired furtiveness. Contrastingly, the Italians have a long heritage of trade. A comprehensible gestural style facilitates communication with foreign language speakers.

 Interactional Synchrony

Another innate kinesic behavior is interactional synchrony: matching body postures and movements. Infants sharpen their synchrony skills with practice during caregiver interaction.

Rapport is reflected by interactants assuming parallel postures and moving synchronously. Movement congruence of a dyad in sync may be as fast as 48 beats per second. Even groups may synchronize.

Sometimes, without even being consciously aware of it, people speak of interactional synchrony: “out of sync,” “in tune,” or “on the same wavelength.”


How close people stand while conversing is a form of nonverbal communication. Proxemics is the use of space as a facet of nonverbal communication.

4 proxemic distances correspond to relationship types: intimate, personal, social, and public.

Intimate distance (0–0.5 meters) is so close that most people do not consider it a public propriety.

Personal distance (0.5–1.2 m) extends to arm’s length. Such space is used for interpersonal interactions with friends and family.

Social distance (1.2–3.6 m) is used to conduct impersonal business and interact at a social gathering.

Public distance (3.6–7.6 m) is a defensive spacing for strangers. Its chosen distance depends upon the sense of safety with the other party.

The specific distances that people maintain with others depends upon various factors, including gender, culture, and social setting. The closer the emotional relationship, the closer physical proximity. We keep our distance from strangers and disliked individuals.

Women in same-sex dyads are physically closer than men. People generally approach women more closely than men.

Even though females have shorter arms than males, women tend to interact at less than arm’s length, whereas men generally converse at greater than arm’s length distance. Since closeness is associated with more, not less, social power, this is one arena where women are more dominant than men.

Psychological gender is a better predictor of interpersonal spacing than biological sex. Those in touch with their feminine side interact at closer proximity, regardless of sex.

People of similar ages maintain closer distances than those with a wide age gap, either younger or older.

Personality matters. Extroverts tuck in while insecure and nonsocial sorts keep their distance.

Americans are especially conscious of personal space, exhibiting unease at close quarters. Latin Americans and Arabs typically interact in closer proximity.

The casual way that the Japanese and Indians regularly pack themselves into public transport would make many Americans positively claustrophobic; yet the Japanese are acutely aware of proxemics. As a more peaceable people than Americans, and much more homogeneous as a society, their experience of discomfort of being close together is minimal.

Women are more complacent about crowding than men. Men are more likely to react negatively, even violently, when feeling crowded.


“Walking into the crowd was like sinking into a stew – you became an ingredient, you took on a certain flavour.” ~ Canadian author Margaret Atwood

Crowding is not always a negative experience. People often choose to be part of a crowd and welcome close proximity with strangers.

Emotive expressions in crowds can be contagious. The arousal can be exhilarating, such as at a concert or sports event when your team is winning. Conversely, an agitated minority can cause rioting.

In a mass of people individuals feel anonymous. Inhibitions may slacken. Because of this, and the emotional intensity of crowds, even the meek may be emboldened.

Release from inhibitions may be enjoyable, but it also opens the way for manipulation. With restraints low and emotions high, skilled orators can introduce behavioral models that would otherwise be rejected. Such is the case at political and religious rallies, which can induce changes of attitude difficult to achieve otherwise.


Men require, and are given, more space than women. Men tend to have larger offices, and use more space, regardless of activity or inactivity. This also reflects power and status distinctions in male-dominated (all) societies.

Gender-role socialization during child-rearing commonly goads boys to venture out and explore, whereas girls are encouraged to stay closer to home.

There is also gender distinction in body orientation during interaction. Women are more likely to squarely face their partner. Direct face-to-face conversation is perceived as warmer and more immediate. It also makes it easier for women to pick up nonverbal cues.

Artifactual Messages

Artifactual messages are conveyed through objects and arrangements made by human hands. These include clothing, jewelry, and decoration of space.

“Clothes make the man.” ~ Mark Twain

Attractiveness involves more than physical features. It involves style of dress, manner, cleanliness, and other attributes.

“It’s who you look like, not who you are.” ~ American musician Jackson Browne in the song “Rosie” (1977)

In the professional world, clothes are a kind of uniform: unwritten rules prescribe standards and styles throughout a socioeconomic hierarchy.

Clothing and jewelry indicate class. A conservative dress style wins influence through its association with social status. Jewelry is a cultural display which also may indicate religious affiliation.

“By the appearance we cultivate, we usually attempt to enhance our physical attractiveness, for an attractive appearance often influences people profoundly in our favor. We also use personal appearance to help us act our social roles.” ~ English social psychologist Peter Marsh

The right style for a woman is more problematic than for a man. Women must not look too feminine, but neither must they appear masculine.

The influence of look through style is well-known. A man in a dark business suit, or a woman in a sober but stylish ensemble, is more likely to receive help from strangers.

In one experiment, a man in high-status clothes violated the “Don’t Walk” sign at a city pedestrian crossing. Others followed. But when the same man was dressed in manual worker’s garb, followers were few.

Color choice is itself a psychologically significant statement. Though the mental resonances of color are biologically based, the associative meanings of different colors vary among cultures.

Somber colors suggest ambition. This link is stronger in men, but also applies to women.

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A man’s own attractiveness is less important in making an impression than the woman hanging on his arm. A man with a physically attractive companion is generally perceived as being of higher status, wealthier, and more intelligent than one accompanied by an unattractive woman. If a man who falls short in the looks department can gain the attentions of a beauty, then he must have other meaningful qualities.

Women do not make the same kind of impression through their partner. Women are judged solely on their looks.

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Choice of clothes may betray underlying personality. Men only interested in the practical aspects of clothing tend to be rather cautious, with low social motivation and some sense of dissatisfaction. But women with this approach instead tend to be intelligent and confident, albeit reluctant to reveal much about themselves.

Males very interested in fashion tend to be warm, helpful, and often a bit impulsive. Fashion-oriented women are something else entirely: they tend to have fairly low academic achievement and generally hold conservative views. Such women also tend to be the most religious, at least in Christian cultures.

Part of a woman’s dress style has to do with sexual attraction. This often involves how much is revealed rather than covered up: particularly the breasts, to which men are biologically compelled.

Of course, clothing is not an ideal display of personality: what people wear reflects their social environment.


Hair on the head has been a locus of personal expression for millennia. It provides strong gender signals. Different cultures have distinct norms for men’s and women’s hair.

In Western Caucasian cultures, with few exceptions, men part their hair on the left and women on the right.

In earlier times it was normal for Western men to have long flowing locks, or even wigs. This became an aberration in the 20th century until the late 1960s, when long hair became a statement by young men of nonconformity and rejection of traditional values, particularly those of mainstream corporate culture. From this time, hair returned to the forefront of tribal affiliation for men, as it had been with indigenous peoples since prehistory.

Women’s hairstyles have also had trends, but nothing so pronounced as with men. Short hair may be the exception. In women, shorn locks were fairly exceptional until the late 20th century, when trends in hairstyles became strong statements of subculture.

 Facial Hair

Facial hair is a basic gender signal: it positively signals masculinity in a man, and negatively lack of femininity in a woman.

While men shave partly for fashion and social convention, there is often a more basic reason: beards are such a strong signal that they can carry overtones of aggression. Shaving removes this potential message, while not erasing the gender signal. In the late 1980s the fashion appeared for facial stubble, to accent masculinity while not stating it too loudly.

Shaven faces look more youthful. Unbearded men view those with beards as independent and extroverted. Depending upon the style – particularly, how well-trimmed – women perceive beards as sophisticated, and a mark of maturity.

When women want to remove facial hair, they generally do so permanently by plucking hairs.


“Tattoos modify self-esteem as well as bodies. Since they make up for something felt to be missing or inadequate, tattoos are prosthetic.” ~ American physician Kirby Farrell

A tattoo is made by inserting indelible ink into the skin to change its pigment. Tattooing is at least 5,300 years old.

The only change with the advent of tattooing was technology, not culture nor psychology. 53,000 years ago, Neanderthals painted their bodies.

“What was once considered self-mutilatory behavior and a psychiatric problem has now become almost normative behavior.” ~ American psychiatrist Reef Karim

Once considered unsavory, tattoos and body piercings have become more prevalent among the younger generation. The once-common opinion that a tattooed person has a rebellious streak has waned with tattoos becoming a more popular adornment.

“Tattoos may serve as an effective means to capture male attention.” ~ American psychologist Vinita Mehta

Despite growing social acceptance, most men consider women with tattoos less attractive, athletic, intelligent, honest, generous, and less religious, but more promiscuous. Men think a tattoo on a woman is a “tramp stamp.”

“Men interpret women’s sexual intent according to their physical appearance.” ~ French psychologist Nicolas Guéguen

The characterization of tattoos as a sexual tell is not unfounded. Both men and women with tattoos and/or body piercings report earlier and more frequent sexual encounters than those without. Tattoos for rebels is also fact-based. People with tattoos are less risk adverse.

“Tattoos still appear to be a marker for risk-taking behavior in adults.” ~ Australian sociologist Wendy Heywood et al

Satisfaction with a tattoo decreases after a few weeks. The boost of enhanced self-esteem wears off, particularly for women.

“Women report significantly greater social physique anxiety three weeks after obtaining a tattoo.” ~ Malaysian psychologist Viren Swami

Tattoo remorse hovers around 20%. Women are twice as likely to have tattoos removed than men. The typical instance of removal is a woman tattooed at 16–23 years waiting 14 years before having her tattoo taken off. Her impetus at the time of tattooing was to “feel unique” or “independent.” The motive for removal is typically to dissociate from the past and improve self-identity: ironically similar to the reason for getting tattooed.

The body as bumper sticker is still considered skanky by conservative oldsters. Many corporate employers still consider such bodily adornments a black mark on a job candidate.


Artifactual messages are statements of taste and lifestyle from which observers infer status, attitudes, and personality, including emotional stability, sociability, and even political orientation. The absence of conventional objects in one’s personal space, such as no television in the home, is also considered indicative.

“Every interior betrays the nonverbal skills of its inhabitants. The choice of materials, the distribution of space, the kinds of objects that command attention have much to say about the preferred modalities of their owners.” ~ American psychiatrist Jurgen Ruesch & American writer Weldon Kees


“Well-timed silence hath more eloquence than speech.” ~ English writer Martin Farquhar Tupper

Silence communicates and serves significant functions. It allows a speaker time to think and formulate a reply while preparing the listener.

“The most profound statements are often said in silence.” ~ Canadian cartoonist Lynn Johnston

Silence offers a pass in taking responsibility for wrongdoing. Silence is the sound before confessing love or firing back during a verbal conflict. Silence may be used to preclude rejection or prevent the communication of certain messages. In conflicts, silence is sometimes used to prevent certain subjects from arising, averting later regret. With the silent treatment, silence is a non-communication weapon, blasting with a bullet of indifference. Silence can communicate resolve: determination to be uncooperative, even defiant.

“Silence is the most perfect expression of scorn.” ~ George Bernard Shaw

Silence is often effectively employed to convey annoyance, especially when paired with a pouting posture.

“Nothing is more useful than silence.” ~ Greek dramatist Menander

Silence may have strategic effect: a pause may position what is said next for maximum impact.

A prolonged silence can be employed to give the appearance of control and superiority. People use silence strategically more with strangers than they do friends.

Silence may simply mean you have nothing to say.

“Nothing is so good for an ignorant man as silence; and if he was sensible of this he would not be ignorant.” ~ Persian poet Saadi Shirazi


“Nothing is so healing as the human touch.” ~ the last words of American chess player Bobby Fischer

Haptic communication is common to all social organisms. In humans, tactility develops before other senses. A fetus is invigorated by touch.

Tactile stimulation is essential for healthy infant development. In stark contrast, harsh physical contact is destructive to the psyche: a cause of behavioral problems, violence, and mental illness later in life.

On average, American children are touched far less than children in other cultures. Given this tidbit and its psychological implications, the ubiquitous violence in the United States is unsurprising, with more homicides per capita than other modern nations – Russia excepted, though its civil society is more medieval than modern.

Sometimes much more powerfully than words, touch conveys positive feelings: support, appreciation, inclusion, and affection. Touch is the most affectionate nonverbal behavior. Touch, space, and eye contact combine into a suite of intimacy.

Touch is strongly influential, even persuasive. Socially acceptable touches convey positive impressions which recipients seldom attribute to tactile stimulation.

Waitresses receive larger tips when they touch patrons. Complete strangers become more courteous to each other at a touch.

Social rules closely regulate tactile contact, banning overbearing or overly familiar touching. How much and where on the body people touch intimates how intimate their relationship is, and how power is distributed between them.

Superiors touch subordinates much more often than vice versa, as subordinates seldom touch superiors in return.

But sometimes touch is used to achieve power. Ambitious underlings may tactically use tactility to advance their status.

Sports is a special circumstance where exceptional public touching is common. Among men especially, tactility that would be unacceptable in a different setting is a norm for congratulation, encouragement, and consolation during sports.

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Touch is often used as part of cultural ritual in greetings and departures. Patterns of appropriate haptic communication vary considerably by culture.

While Latin Americans generally comprise a “contact” culture, Costa Ricans are more tactile than neighboring Panamanians and Columbians. Mexicans are effusive in their friendly tactility.

Westerners are generally more touch-oriented in social encounters than Asians. Though shaking hands has been accepted when dealing with Westerners, public tactility is largely frowned upon in East Asia.

Koreans consider it disrespectful for a storekeeper to touch a customer, even in handing back change. Koreans are the least-positive emotively tactile Asians. Centuries of subjugation by the Chinese and Japanese imbued tremendous reserve into the Koreans; yet the Koreans are also a physically violent people. Repression is often a smoldering fuse.

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“Touch avoidance is related to communication apprehension, self-disclosure, self-esteem, and a series of cultural role variables.” ~ American communication scholars Peter Andersen & Kenneth Leibowitz

The tendency to touch relates to openness to communication. People who avoid self-disclosure also avoid touching others.

Haptic patterns indicate underlying personality. People who like touching are more talkative, cheerful, and socially dominant. They are also less bound to etiquette, convention, and social image. Touchers often show an independence of thought and are concomitantly more inquiring and skeptical.

By contrast, those uncomfortable with touch tend to be less intelligent, and to some degree socially withdrawn and emotionally unstable. Regardless of gender, those with negative attitudes toward touch tend to be more authoritarian and inflexible.

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Self-touching is independently associated with anxiety and sexual interest. Females touch themselves more than males. In a sexual social context, self-touching by a woman, in bringing attention to her body, is perceived as a courtship behavior.

“I don’t want anybody else. When I think about you I touch myself.” ~ Australian singer Chrissy Amphlett in the song “I Touch Myself” (1990)

 Heterosexual Tactility

Touching among and between the sexes can be touchy. Heterosexual men avoid touching other men except while participating in sports. Men are less hesitant about touching women. Generally, males are more positive about opposite-sex touching than females. Women avoid touching men except as an invitation to physical intimacy. Women are not so reluctant to touch other women. Though females are touched more often than males, there is scant evidence that men touch women more than women touch men.

“As any man who has been slapped for “making a pass” can testify, the effect of touch is not always positive.” ~ American psychologist Jeffrey Fisher

During flirtation women tend to use brief touches, whereas men prefer intimate touching.

Females generally view intimate sexual touch as indicative of relationship commitment; males less so. This discrepancy holds the potential for miscommunication as tactile behavior escalates.

Males initiate tactile contact more than females in dating relationships, whereas women initiate touch more than men in marital relationships.

There is mutual causality in the haptic intensity of long-term relationships. One selection factor in coupling is touch preference. Couples become more similar about touching as the relationship develops.


“Immediacy is typically a mindless, spontaneous expression of positive affection for another person that is encoded as a combination of cues.” ~ Peter Anderson

Immediacy involves nonverbal intimations of warmth, closeness, and attraction between interactants. Immediacy behaviors signal availability for conversation and indications to include others.

Immediacy is suggested by eye contact, close interpersonal distances, interactional synchrony, touch, smiling, and open body postures, including leaning toward the person. Conversely, avoiding eye contact, facing away, distancing oneself, closed bodily positions, and averting tactile contact demonstrate unavailability.

Effective Communication

“It ain’t what they call you, it’s what you answer to.” ~ American comedian W.C. Fields

Conversation takes place within contexts. A common source of miscommunication, resulting in tedious repetition of messages, comes from the speaker and listener operating in different contexts. It is incumbent upon the speaker to be clear in establishing the intended context of messages conveyed.

Effective conversation involves economy: sticking to rational reasons to speak – namely, to inform, influence, or to entertain.

Foremost for effective conversation is empathy toward the listener. An unreceptive audience must be first shifted into receptivity. To influence those unreceptive, first entertain. That said, there is no reason to attempt entertaining someone who is not interested. Deaf ears do not hear. Listening is an active activity.

Effective communication involves either adhering to the instant context or guiding the conversation to a new terrain that will ultimately offer a valuable perspective.

“So much of what is considered “inappropriate” is communication that is out of context: making a sexual proposition to an employee, proposing to an already married person, laughing at a funeral, interrupting another person mid-sentence, arriving late for a special ceremony, or giving a person a compliment in a sarcastic voice.” ~ Peter Anderson

We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak. ~ Epictetus

Listening is critical to being an effective communicator, including paying attention to nonverbal communication. Listening lets you to better understand your audience, and so tailor your messages to make them as effective as possible.

“The time to stop talking is when the other person nods his head affirmatively but says nothing.” ~ American stockbroker Henry Haskins

Engender feedback, which informs in ways for which there is no substitute.

“Most conversations are monologues delivered in the presence of witnesses.” ~ American Canadian novelist Margaret Millar

Effective conversations are dialogues: back-and-forth responsive transactions of substance. Monologues are the opposite: typically, self-serving, often critical and manipulative.

“A conversation is a dialogue, not a monologue. That’s why there are so few good conversations: due to scarcity, two intelligent talkers seldom meet.” ~ American author Truman Capote

Taking Turns

“To reduce the likelihood of speakers talking at the same time, people in a conversation typically obey turn-taking rules.” ~ American psychologist Esther Blank Greif

Dialogue involves reciprocity. Cues indicate when a speaker yields, or a listener would like to interject.

Listeners have 3 types of cues to help regulate a conversation: turn-requesting, turn-denying, and back-channeling. These cues involve brief vocalizations, gestures, or postures.

A turn-requesting cue indicates the desire to address the topic at hand. Conversely, a turn-denying cue demurs the opportunity to speak.

A back-channeling cue provides feedback without assuming the speaker’s role. Back-channeling – what the Japanese term aizuchi – is an essential aspect of efficient communication. Aizuchi is strong in Japanese culture, with frequent acknowledgement interjections.

People react to the end of a conversational turn by beginning their own after a gap of just ~200 milliseconds: about the time it takes a sprinter to respond to a starting gun. This despite the fact that it takes at least 600 ms to work out what to say; but people plan to speak before their turn. The verbal gun is loaded before one shoots off his mouth – the speaker-in-waiting primed for the cue that indicates turnover, such as a drop in pitch at the end of a sentence.

Conversation dynamics are similar across cultures. Gaps as cues for turnover are consistent, with only small timing differences.

Though the Japanese are notably polite, they have one of the shortest gaps before starting conversational replies. In answering “yes” or “no” to a question a Japanese may even reply before the questioner’s turn is over. This is not rudeness, but efficiency – answering quickly moves the conversation along.

The conversational detritus of “uh” and “um” by speakers signal that they are not quite done. Men use these pause fillers more than women and tend to prefer “uh” to “um,” which women employ more often. A meaningless, drawn-out “so” to begin a sentence serves as a substitute for “uh” or “um.” Listeners use “uh-hum” and the humbler “mm-hmm” to show that they have understood the speaker and are sympathetic.

The cross-cultural use of such cues indicates universality, and how well people subconsciously cooperate in conversation.


Interruptions are common in conversation. Back-channeling may interrupt. In doing so, back-channel interruptions are typically confirming rather than disagreeing.

Interruptions serve distinct functions. They may add information, correct the speaker, seek clarification or further information, change the topic, or end the conversation.

As a pattern of behavior, interruptions are an assertion of social power. Authority figures – bosses, supervisors, police, judges, interviewers – are chronic interrupters.

Genders differ in their interruption patterns. While there is scant distinction in interruption rates between boys and girls, men generally interrupt more often than women.

Males use specific conversational strategies to reproduce structural relationships of power and dominance at the micro level. ~ American psychologist Kriss Drass

More masculine people – male or female – tend to interrupt. Fathers interrupt their children more often than mothers. Both parents tend to interrupt daughters more than sons. Women judge simultaneous talking as being an interruption more than men do.

“Verbal aggressiveness is a better predictor of recognition of interruption than gender. People who measure high in verbal aggressiveness react less to simultaneity as being negative than people who measure low in verbal aggressiveness.” ~ American communication scholars Mary Bresnahan & Deborah Cai


“Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity. We can choose to use this force constructively with words of encouragement, or destructively using words of despair. Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate and to humble.” ~ American rabbi Yehuda Berg

Conversation is an exercise in social influence. People communicate their self-assessment of their own power.

“Powerful and powerless forms of talk are defined in terms of the impressions they create for speakers.” ~ American communication scholar Craig Johnson

Hesitations make a speaker sound uncertain. Disqualifiers signal incompetence and uncertainty. Tag questions asking for affirmation indicate dubiety. Intensifiers and frequent superlatives sap the strength of emphasis: the very opposite of the speaker’s intent. Self-critical statements publicize one’s own inadequacies and show lack of confidence. Slang and vulgarity indicate low class, and hence low power – examples: “you know,” “no problem,” “whatever.” Self-manipulations (playing with the hair or touching the face) and leaning backwards display discomfort and damage persuasiveness. Inappropriate facial expressions and gestures damage credibility. Incongruity between verbal and nonverbal messages show uncertainty and lack of conviction.

“Powerful and powerless speech establishes and maintains power differentials in addition to reflecting social realities.” ~ Craig Johnson

Powerless speakers are viewed as less credible, less persuasive, and less attractive.

“Speak clearly, if you speak at all; carve every word before you let it fall.” ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

The most powerful speaker is one that is at ease, conveying cogently and concisely at a modest volume, using standard language, with gestures that accent points rather than trying to drive them home.

“The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.” ~ German-born American painter Hans Hofmann

Fiery, over-the-top speakers may be rousing in the moment, but their deal is less convincing.

“Nothing lowers the level of conversation more than raising the voice.” ~ Stanley Horowitz

“The less people know, the more they yell.” ~ American author Seth Godin

Calm assertion trumps aggression, even if the fury is muted. Passion may be momentarily persuasive but appealing to reason in transparent terms more surely affects convictions and beliefs.

“The more elaborate our means of communication, the less we communicate.” ~ English theologian Joseph Priestley

In social situations, men exhibit more behavioral dominance: head shaking, closed posture positions, using closed questions, and directive remarks. Women show more affiliation: smiling, laughing, posing open questions, and sitting in open postures.

Men use more powerful language forms and assertive nonverbal communications than women. That does not make men more effective communicators.

“Words – so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them.” ~ American novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne


“O what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive!” ~ Scottish historical novelist Walter Scott

Many organisms practice deception, either as a defensive measure or to gain advantage. Viruses infect their hosts and sustain themselves via wily molecular deception.

“We lie if honesty won’t work.” ~ American communications scholar Timothy Levine

Given human social acumen, communication faculties, and the ability of people to cooperatively achieve feats unique among the animal kingdom, deceit may seem utterly counterproductive. So it can be; but only sometimes.

“A single lie destroys a whole reputation for integrity.” ~ Spanish philosopher Baltasar Gracian

Deception is so ubiquitous among us as to be a defining characteristic of the species. No other animal so casually and regularly deceives; perhaps no other animal needs to.

“Lying, stealing, and cheating are commonplace.” ~ American businessman and Mormon religious leader Joseph Wirthlin

Though all people loathe being lied to and misled, deception is the stuff of everyday communication. Of course, some folks lie more than others. People who preen on self-presentation and manipulativeness are particularly prone to lying.

“Despite the fact that lying can destroy friendships, marriages, business deals, and even presidencies, lying is widespread.” ~ Peter Anderson

The foregoing withstanding, deception is a social necessity. Telling others what you really think, especially about them, is a superb formula for alienating those you are speaking to.

“Deceit makes our world go round. Without lies, marriages would crumble, workers would be fired, egos would be shattered, governments would collapse.” ~ American writer A.J. Jacobs, who experimentally tried “radical” honesty and found out the damage it does to relationships

When it comes to deception, it’s damned if you do and damned if you don’t; which is to say that deception done right is the nuanced art of discretion.

“A lie would have no sense unless the truth were felt as dangerous.” ~ Alfred Adler

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There are 4 strategies of deception: falsification, concealment, equivocation, and paltering. Falsification creates a fiction. Concealment hides information. Equivocation dodges the issue. Paltering is technically telling the truth to create a false impression. Politicians are especially adept palterers.

“Politicians often palter to mislead listeners.” ~ American behavioral scientist Todd Rogers

Deception Detection

“People are not very effective lie detectors.” ~ American communication scholars Laura Guerrero & Michael Hecht

Detecting deception is not easy. Most people are smooth enough to pull the wool over someone’s eyes. The frequent success of deceit accounts for its continuing ubiquity.

Once someone feels they have been deceived they raise their guard. Some are called upon professionally to detect deception; customs officials and police are exemplary. But they are no better at it than the cut-above-average savvy person.

“Deception possesses special powers. It always takes the lead in life, while detection of deception plays catch-up. As has been said regarding rumors, the lie is halfway around the world before the truth puts its boots on.” ~ Robert Trivers

Deception Indications

“Lying is done with words and also with silence.” ~ American poet and essayist Adrienne Rich

There are hints that indicate deception. Deceivers state fewer facts and make more generalized and sweeping statements. Liars frequently leave gaps in their story to avoid saying something that would give them away.

Responsiveness to questions about specifics may be slow and sound carefully couched. Lies are often delivered more slowly and at a higher pitch than casual conversation. Speech errors, such as hesitations or stutters, are more likely.

Liars may create a negative impression. They seem more defensive, less cooperative, complain more, smile less, make more negative statements, and are more likely to use offensive language.

Facial expression can be controlled, but brief moments of facial activity – lasting less than 1/5th of a second – interrupt the mask of deception. These micromomentary bursts take on the angry, contemptuous, or sad face lurking beneath. Because of their fleeting duration, micromomentary expressions cannot be consciously detected; but they can make a subliminal impact.

Most people have been in situations where they had the strange feeling that a person does not like them despite wearing a friendly face. Similarly, we may sense positivity out of someone who appears distant. These apparent inconsistencies arise from the subconscious perception of true regard which leaks out in micro-moments.

In general, people smile less when lying, and are slower with facial expression responses and other body language.

The hands are especially reliable indicators for detecting deceit. Liars often stifle hand movements. Most people at least subconsciously realize that the hands are expressive, and so reduce their flow when lying so as to not reveal a deception. To curtail their hands, liars often tuck them away. Fewer head movements are also common during deception.

When the hands are allowed to move, deceivers do more self-touching, which is related to nervousness and arousal. So-called “lie detectors” work by measuring arousal during testimony.

Liars are also prone to use a gesture which acts as a disclaimer for what is being said: it takes form as a dismissive shrug or hand wave and appears on the tail of false information just imparted. This is a regular gesture for Donald Trump, who is positively pathological with “alternative facts.”

Postural cues are also telling. Liars may appear tense and fidgety. Other postural cues signal insincerity, by suggesting an emotion or attitude that only the face succeeds in masking. A closed or tense posture belies a sympathetic face when it comes to displaying disagreement.

Similarly, showing affection or respect involves more than tuning in an attentive face. If the body is not correspondent, the effect is spoiled.

Even the orientation of the feet act as an emotive compass. People point their feet at affiliates and away from someone of disinterest or dislike.

The eyes are particularly hard to control. Dilated pupils and reduced blinking are cues to deception. But there is no statistical basis for the common intuition that only talented liars can look you in the eye while lying.


Attention to nonverbal leakage depends on mind-set. Whereas suspicious minds are on the body lookout, those inclined toward trust tend to pay attention to the face, and so are gulled in accepting the expressions there as genuine.

“The essence of lying is in deception, not in words.” ~ English writer John Ruskin

 Fake Smiles

Social smiles may be manufactured for appropriate reasons. But it sometimes matters to know whether a smile is genuine or minted. There are 4 ways of telling. 1st: forced smiles do not extend to the eyes, which wrinkle via orbicularis oculi muscles when a smile is heartfelt. 2nd: unspontaneous smiles tend to asymmetry: stronger on the left for right-handed people and vice versa. 3rd is timing: facsimile smiles appear at socially inappropriate points in an interaction. 4th: the build-up and decay of a fake grin differs from a real one: it rapidly appears, holds on a bit too long, and decays in an odd way.


Deception is sometimes so socially acceptable as to morally classify some of it as good: “white lies.” Such mistruths or omissions are commonly employed to spare others ill feelings, or from having to deal with the ill feelings of others if they are informed. It begins with parents lying to their children, which is a universal practice of convenience.

Deception is a global cultural norm: decried while prevalently practiced. Its occurrence in different cultures varies only by degrees. There are no “honest” societies.

“People say believe half of what you see, and none of what you hear.” ~ American songwriters Norman Whitfield & Barrett Strong in the song “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” (1966)

Deception is contagious. People are more likely to lie or cheat if others do.

Deception and materialism go hand-in hand. The maturation of capitalism has polished the brazenness with which deception is practiced throughout the world. Sociopathy is practically corporate policy.

At a societal level, deception is highly corrosive. It engenders cynicism as a cultural norm. Russians are a world-class example.

“Politicians are a set of men who have interests aside from the interests of the people and who, to say the most of them, are, taken as a mass, at least one long step removed from honest men.” ~ American President Abraham Lincoln

Politics is an endless fountain of deception, regardless of how politicians are spawned: via democracy or dictatorship. Only the most naïve citizens take what political leaders say at face value; but there are a lot of those, and they are those with strong belief systems (the espousal of which often lays the foundation for hypocrisy). American conservatives are notably gullible to the lies fed to them by their political leaders.

“Lying distorts reality.” ~ English jurist John Bradshaw