The Secret Science Of Body Language, Explained

photographed by Refinery29.
Sometimes stories about body language can come across a little tabloid-like, and yet, it's hard to resist clicking on them. "An Expert Breaks Down Kim & Kanye's Shifting & 'Sad' Body Language Through The Years," click. "Trump's Body Language Reveals How He Feels About Journalists, Especially Women Of Colour," click. From Ivanka Trump to the Biebers, Nick Jonas to the royal family, we are all thirsty to know what public people are thinking but not saying, and body language satisfies this curiosity.
"People want to know what's going on between the lines — what's really happening?" says Lillian Glass, PhD, a body language expert and author. In many ways, body language is a secret language, because we all have "consistent tells" that signal how we feel, Dr. Glass says. Knowing how to interpret these habits and quirks can be very powerful.
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Along with body movement, experts use facial expressions, voice quality, and speech content to decode what people are thinking, Dr. Glass says. "When you have all these codes of communication, then you see the whole picture, and you can make accurate analyses," she says. At a time when politicians seem shady, and celebrity drama is juicier than ever, it's no wonder people flock to body language experts to explain the world around us.
But what you might not understand is that body language analysis is a science and an art that requires education and an immense understanding of human behaviour. The formal study of nonverbal interpersonal communication is often referred to as "kinesics," which is a term that was coined by an anthropological researcher in the 1950s. Most body language experts get into the field because they have a background in communication, psychology, or law enforcement, Dr. Glass says. In other words, body language is not B.S.
For example, Dr. Glass started her career as working as a speech pathologist with patients who had severe facial disorders. "I learned about muscles, muscle function, and explored what different voices meant," she says. This knowledge of verbal and nonverbal communication led Dr. Glass to Hollywood, where she helped actors prepare their voices for specific roles.
Body language also has a very practical application when it comes to the criminal justice system. Dr. Glass has used her communication and body language skills to weigh in on national criminal cases, serve as an expert witness working with attorneys, and help prepare witnesses for trial. In these instances, it's super important to remain unbiased, she says. "All I'm doing is observing what is, not what people want it to be," she says.
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Technically, there's no credentialing association that regulates who can use the title "body language expert," which can cause issues. Lots of people claim to be "body language experts" just to make some money talking about celebrities and politicians, Dr. Glass says. "Body language analysis done poorly is dangerous, because you can ruin somebody," she says. "It’s not something to be taken lightly."
Although proper body language analysis requires expertise, having a basic understanding and awareness of body language can help non-experts decode their daily conversations. "Body language helps you in every way, and in this day and age we can’t make mistakes," she says. "I constantly do it and encourage everybody to do it." There are lots of books about body language out there (Dr. Glass has written several) that can help you get started. Or, if you're looking to expand your communication skills for work, you might consider working one-on-one with an expert who can tailor their advice to your needs.
As fun as it is to dissect someone's behaviour, there's no surefire guarantee that you'd be able to tell everything there is to know about a person based on their body language alone. But whether you're indulging in the latest gossip about your favourite celebrity couple, or having a difficult conversation with your partner, body language is all around us — and more fascinating than ever.
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