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Body Language Myths

By: Libby Pelham BA - Updated: 12 Mar 2010 | comments*Discuss
Body Language Gestures Non-verbal

Body language, gestures, non-verbal communication – no matter what term is used, it is often used as a way to understand what another person is really thinking, regardless of what they are saying.

But, is everything we think we know about body language accurate? There are some myths that abound about body language that simply aren’t true.

The Eyes of a Liar

Most people will say that someone cannot look another person in the eyes and lie, but that is a myth. In fact, research conducted by Paul Ekman, a pioneer in the study of facial expressions, proves the exact opposite. Ekman’s research found that pathological liars have no problem staring someone in the eyes and lying.

And what about people who avoid eye contact? Are they being deceptive? Ekman pointed out that nervousness can make people dart their eyes and shyness can cause them to avoid eye contact completely, even when telling the truth. In some cultures, avoiding eye contact, especially in younger people, is encouraged.

Eye Contact is Good

Going along with the myth that liars cannot look a person in the eye, many believe that more eye contact is better. However, directing a fixated stare at another usually makes the other person uncomfortable. Eye contact that lasts a few seconds is best for showing attention and conveying sincerity. Any eye contact longer than that may be perceived by the other person as flirtation or intimidation.

Hands Behind the Back

Some people mistake a person putting his or her hands behind their back when standing as a sign of power. Known as the “Prince Charles” stance, this type of body language is actually not seen by others as a sign of strength but as that of someone who is not trustworthy. People like to see a person’s hands in order to know what they are doing with them. To gain a person’s trust, a person should keep their hands front and centre.

Touching Shows Dominance

Another body language misconception is that people in power show their dominance over others by touching them. Research has shown the opposite. It is often the person of lower status that touches first. Research has also proven that women are more likely to initiate touch than men.

A Smile Means Happiness

We often associate smiles with happiness but again, that is a myth. People may smile for many reasons including when they are fearful, in contempt, feeling dejected, and unhappy.

Babies begin to smile within hours after birth, but their social smile, one in which they fix their gaze upon another person’s face, doesn’t happen until they are between five weeks and four months old. While smiles can have a powerful effect on others, it doesn’t always mean the one smiling is happy.

Fast-Talkers Can’t Be Trusted

Many people have been confronted with a fast-talking salesman who has tried to trick them into buying something. But, fast-talk doesn’t necessarily mean someone is trying to bamboozle you.

While people may be suspicious of fast-talkers, they should actually be more suspicious of those that talk slower. Speakers who take too many pauses or have long pauses peppered with “ah” and “uh” may be trying to making up details of the story he or she wants to tell as they go along.

Research has proven that some people have misconceptions about body language and what it actually means. Remember to take all things into account – culture, social dynamics, personal habits – and use as much information as possible when judging another based solely on his or her body language.

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