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Body Language

Reviewed by Psychology Today Staff

Body language is a silent orchestra, as people constantly give clues to what they’re thinking and feeling. Non-verbal messages including body movements, facial expressions, vocal tone and volume, and other signals are collectively known as body language.

Microexpressions (brief displays of emotion on the face), hand gestures, and posture all register in the human brain almost immediately—even when a person is not consciously aware they have perceived anything. For this reason, body language can strongly color how an individual is perceived, and how he or she, in turn, interprets others’ motivation, mood, and openness. It's natural to mirror; beginning as soon as infancy, a newborn moves its body to the rhythm of the voice he hears.

How to Read People

Body language is a vital form of communication, but most of it happens below the level of conscious awareness. When you wait for a blind date to arrive, for instance, you may nervously tap your foot without even realizing that you’re doing it. Similarly, when you show up to meet your date, you may not consciously perceive that your date appears closed-off, but your unconscious mind may pick up on the crossed arms or averted gaze. Luckily, with knowledge and a little practice, it is possible to exert some measure of control over your own body language and to become more skilled at reading others.

How can I learn to read body language?

The face is the first place to look, arching eyebrows might indicate an invitation of sorts, and smiling is another indication that the person welcomes you. And is the person standing or sitting close to you? If so, then there is interest. Plus, open arms are just that: Open.

How can you tell if someone is attracted to you?

If a person repeatedly touches your arm, places a light hand on your shoulder, or knocks elbows with you, the person is attracted to you and is demonstrating this with increased touch. People interested in each other smile more, and their mouths may even be slightly open. Engaging in eye contact is another indication. A person who leans towards you or mirrors your body language is also demonstrating interest.

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