Body language

Body language is a broad term for forms of communication using body movements or gestures instead of, or in addition to, sounds, verbal language, or other forms of communication. It forms part of the category of paralanguage, which describes all forms of human communication that are not verbal language. This includes the most subtle of movements that many people are not aware of, including winking and slight movement of the eyebrows.

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 considered involuntary, even though the distinction between voluntary and involuntary body language is often controversial. For example, a smile may be produced either consciously or unconsciously.


• 1 Terminology

• 2 Origins of body language

• 3 Social uses

• 4 In the animal kingdom

• 5 See also

• 6 References

• 7 External links


Voluntary body language refers to movement, gestures and poses intentionally made by a person (i.e., conscious smiling, hand movements and imitation). It can apply to many types of soundless communication. Generally, movement made with full or partial intention and an understanding of what it communicates can be considered voluntary.

Involuntary body language quite often takes the form of facial expression, and has therefore been suggested as a means to identify the emotions of a person with whom one is communicating.

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 artifact 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 be learned or modified through learning, usually by unconscious observation of the environment.

Social uses

Body language is important in one-on-one communications, and may be even more important in group communications. In group situations, often only one person at a time is speaking, while non-verbal communication is coming from each individual in the group. The larger the group, the more impact body language may have.

Body language is a factor in human courtship as a subconscious or subtle method of communication between potential mates. Researchers such as Desmond Morris have extensively studied and reported on courtship behaviour. (see also: Flirting)

In the animal kingdom

Body language is documented in the animal kingdom to play an important role, particularly in the case of mammals during animal courtship. As an example, the male Blue Wildebeest produces an array of behaviours in the territorial staking and subsequent mate attraction process. An erect posture signals dominance to other males, warning not to enter his domain territory. While standing, an angled head, pointing his horns at another male, invites combat. In attracting a female, he will often gore a tree to display athleticism and virility, signaling interest in mating.

See also

• Nonverbal communication

• Kinesics

• Neuro-linguistic programming

• Facial expression

• Gesture

• Eye contact

• Body Language (song)

• Posture

• Proteans

• Proxemics

• Sign language

• Flirting

• Cat body language


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

• Livingston, Drs. Sharon and Glen (2004). How to Use Body language. Psy Tech Inc.

External links

Wikimedia Commons has media related to:

Body language

• Facial Expression Resources Page Links to research groups and other resources concerning facial expression perception, recognition and synthesis.

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