Body language

From Academic Kids

This article is about the form of communication, for other meanings see Body Language.
Body language of US General Michael W. Hagee
Body language of US General Michael W. Hagee

Body language is a broad term for several forms of communication using body movements or gestures, instead of, or as a complement to, sounds, verbal language, or other forms of communication. In turn, it is one category of paralanguage, which describes all forms of human communication that are not language.

Paralanguage including body language has been extensively studied in social psychology. In everyday speech and popular psychology, the term is most often applied to body language that is thought to be involuntary, but in fact the distinction between voluntary and involuntary body language is often blurred: a smile or a wave may be given either voluntarily or involuntarily, for example.


Voluntary Body Language

This is less commonly discussed because it seems unproblematic: it refers to movement, gestures and poses intentionally made by the person (smiling, hands, imitating actions), and generally making movements with full or partial intention of making them and a realisation of what they communicate. It can apply to many types of soundless communication, such as formalized gestures.

Origins of body language

The relation of body language to animal communication has often been discussed. Human paralanguage may represent a continuation of forms of communication that our non-linguistic ancestors already used, or it may be that it has been changed by co-existing with language. Some species of animals are especially adept at detecting human body language, both voluntary and involuntary: this is the basis of the Clever Hans effect (a source of artefact in comparative psychology), and was also the reason for trying to teach the chimpanzee Washoe American Sign Language rather than speech — and perhaps the reason why the Washoe project was more successful than some previous efforts to teach apes how to dance.

Body language is a product of both genetic and environmental influences. Blind children will smile and laugh even though they have never seen a smile. The ethologist Iraneus Eibl-Eibesfeldt claimed that a number of basic elements of body language were universal across cultures and must therefore be fixed action patterns under instinctive control. Some forms of human body language show continuities with communicative gestures of other apes, though often with changes in meaning. More refined gestures, which vary between cultures (for example the gestures to indicate "yes" and "no"), must obviously be learned or modified through learning, usually by unconscious observation of the environment.


Showing one's palms to the listeners may mean openness and honesty, hiding the palms may mean deceit. Moving the hands close to the mouth or touching the nose may also indicate deceit.

Pointing with a leg or knee towards another person may mean interest or acceptence of said person. Pointing your body away from the one you talk to means you would rather not be talking to the person and would rather move in the direction you are pointing.

See also

External link


  • Argyle, M. (1990). Bodily communication (2nd edition). New York: International Universities Press. ISBN 0823605515

cs:Neverbální komunikace da:Kropssprog de:Nonverbale Kommunikation ja:ボディー・ランゲージ pl:Mowa ciała


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