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Body Language Essay, Research Paper

Sometimes it’s easy to tell what is on a person’s mind by the way they position their body. Facial expressions also give clues as to what other people are thinking. The way a person stands, positions their arms, and smiles can tell a lot about them. Men and women typically have different movements, which mean different things.

People position their bodies in many different ways when standing. The most intimate of them being, face to face, hip to hip (Fenney 102). This is something that usually only men do when they’re mad. When conducting an experiment, in which she acted like a man for a day, Susan Fenney stood this way towards a male coworker. He would keep inching away from her. Within five minutes he had done two complete circles (Fenney 102).

Men usually take up more space while sitting down. It is not necessarily because they are bigger; men were raised believing that they have more power then women (Fenney 102). They are also more likely to take an armrest, and least likely to give up a subway seat to a pregnant lady (Fenney 102).

The way men and women greet people is very different. Contrary to popular beliefs, men are more likely to touch women when they greet them, then women are to touch men. Men usually touch people on their upper body, for instance, back-slapping. When Susan Fenney tried this on her boss on her day as a man, he was startled and took a moment to answer her. It is more like women to touch people on the shoulder or arm (Fenney 102).

Facial expressions are great indicators of what is on people’s minds. The face has 44 muscles, nerves, and blood vessels, which can twist into 5,000 different expressions (Blum 34). Facial expressions are not always easy to read though. As Dr. Paul Ekman said, “In a sense, the face is equipped to lie the most and leak the most, and thus can be a very confusing source of information” (Blum 34). The face is able to signal emotions in a second, and it is also able to hide emotions just as well (Blum 32). Researchers have come up with 6 basic and different expressions that are usually the most easy to read and make. Those are: anger, fear, sadness, disgust, surprise, and happiness (Blum 34).

Smiles are the most easily recognized way of showing happiness. We can see when someone is smiling more clearly when away from them 300 feet (the length of a football field) then any other expression (Blum 34). Smiling can mean a lot of different things. Usually it means “I like you and I hope you like me” (Fenney 105). Other times it can mean things like “I’m embarrassed”, “I’m shy”, or “get away from me because I’m feeling uptight” (Gay 15). There are many different kinds of smiles. A grocery store clerk gives a customer a smile that is a lot different then the smiles on the faces of a person that just won the lottery. A polite smile (like a bank teller would smile) is slightly turned up at the edges of the lips, but has no effect on the eyes. There is also the felt smile, which is when your lips pull upward and your eyes crinkle (Blum 34). Women tend to give friendly, nonthreatening smiles while they look at people, unlike men who generally don’t change their facial expression (Fenney 105).

A lot of body language is learned while we are young. It is easy for babies to learn that a nod means “yes” and a shake of the head means “no” (Gay 13). Young kids tend to learn by copying their older brothers and sisters. This is where some learn things like grooming, dressing, walking and sitting. Children without siblings learn from other people, like their parents (Gay 13).

Some body language is instinct. Before young children can even talk, they bite when they are mad. The naturalist, Charles Darwin, explains that this is like young crocodiles that “snap their little jaws as soon as they emerge from the egg” (Gay 15). It is also understood that when someone has their arms open towards you, it means to “come here” (Gay 13). George Rotter, Ph.D., said, “The abilities to express and recognize emotion are inborn, genetic, and evolutionary” (Blum 34). Some things that can affect our ability to recognize emotions are culture, parenting, and experience. Some studies suggest that abused children are likely to not be able to correctly identify other’s facial expressions, and therefore are more likely to get in trouble (Blum 34).

Facial expressions and body language can help give clues as to what people are thinking. We make constant movements every second of the day without realizing it. Trying to read facial expressions can be very hard, because they are so quick. Body language, on the other hand, is more easily read. We are taught some very obvious types of body language, like that someone is lying when they won’t look you in the eye, but there are many more than that. Watching people from a distance, you can usually determine how they feel about each other, whether they are friends, family, or just plain strangers. Body language is something we see everyday that helps us to communicate without words.

Blum, Deborah, “Face It!,” Psychology Today Oct 98: 32-66.

Fenney, Susan, “What I Got When I Acted Like a Guy,” Redbook April 95: 102-105.

Gay, Kathlyn. Body Talk. New York: Charles Scriber’s Sons, 1974.


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