Body Gestures

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Hi and welcome to the body gestures series.

Here we're gonna talk about 2 sets of gestures:

1. Gestures that involve our torso and hips - the trunk of our body.

2. Gestures that are not particular to a single limb, or a string of several actions that happen simultaneously.

I know that it seems a little strange to talk about gestures and the torso. After all, in contrast to other body parts, we don't really consider the trunk of our body as a very expressive or "mobile" part. And that's true, the amount of information and displays we make solely with the torso is very limited.

But my point in this series is to focus on behaviors that expose or, in contrast, guard our frontal vulnerable area. 

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Our torso, especially on the ventral side (the front) is a very vulnerable section of the body, it includes the neck, chest, abdomen and the crotch. These parts contain valuable organs critical to our survival, so it's only natural that we are born with an automatic safe guard system installed to protect them even at the expense of other, less critical parts, such as the hands.

With this in mind, we can examine many body gestures more accurately. Let's look at some aspects of this behavior:

OK, so if I said that protecting our ventral side is a priority, shouldn't we just walk with a body armor all the time? Or at least be on guard?

Why of course not, with all due respect to safety we still need to live a life, right? We want to move freely and enjoy ourselves without the constant fear of attack.

This means that when we feel physically and emotionally safe - we feel comfortable exposing our torso and make open body gestures. When we do feel discomfort or anxiety, we often resort to gestures and actions that shield our body, make it smaller and\or hide behind objects.

So when judging someone's gestures determine this - is this action exposes his ventral side, or shields it? Does this person feel comfortable and safe enough to stand with his chest out or is he hiding behind his arms and tucked chin?

To give a few examples:

1. After a good lunch, sitting back and relaxing with a full stomach bulging  forward (and perhaps tapping on it happily) is an obvious display of satisfaction and comfort.

2. When we feel deeply depressed we lower our head and curl into a fetal position -  a defensive curl.

3. Strong and authoritative figures walk with their chest out and head high, they avoid hiding behind objects and walk with firm steady paces. They have nothing to fear from their surroundings.

Just imagine the mean demeanor of a strict teacher walking around the room, and in contrast the small posture of the student late to the class.

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Taking Space and Growing Bigger

Another point it's important to get is this: Dominant and powerful figures take more space than submissive and insecure ones. It's the same as in the animal kingdom, where the alpha male gets the biggest share of food, females and space, and it's also true to our specie - it's just manifested somewhat differently - read here about territoriality.

So sending arms aside, laying the legs on the table and putting hands on hips all tell the same - "I feel good and strong, this is my domain"

In fact, these positions often leave a person in a vulnerable position - he's not ready for an attack, simply because he doesn't believe anyone will try it.

Bullies who pester weaker opponents do so by puffing their chest and pushing their opponent. They appear intimidating that way, but this is actually not a good battle stance, they absolutely sure of their strength (or the weakness of their victim).

By the way, this is why we get so mad when someone who's in lower social status than ours make such dominant gestures, especially when it's in OUR territory.

Luckily there's the fence

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1. A teenager who leans back, spread his arms and smiles when being reprimanded undermines the authority of his elders and therefore shows them disrespect.

"Sit up straight and look at me when I'm talking to you!" sound familiar? Think about it - these are the instruction to make someone more submissive and obedient - like a soldier.

2. Beating on a puffed up chest is an aggressive display that we share we other primates (Gorillas!) . Think about it - not only we expose the chest - but we also pound on it to show we don't fear combat.


When we want others to trust and believe us we need to show that we have nothing to hide. By exposing the ventral side and removing physical objects in front of us we remove the physical block - what leads to a more open communication channel.

One of the popular ways to show sincerity is to expose the palms - the ventral side of our hands. It says: "hey, I have nothing to hide, just look at my hands!"

No wonder that the open arms gesture became a universal signal for acceptance and peace and freedom.

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Alright, but does it mean that it's possible to lie and still look believable using such body gestures?

Yes it does, and many "professional liars" do. The thing is that it needs some practice and a very conscious control over your body language to make it successful. Interestingly enough it's hard for us to lie if we try to appear honest. If we use open body language we will instantly become more open and honest. Why? Because it feels exposed and vulnerable at the open, as if someone put a spotlight on us, we want to avoid the embarrassment and stress of being caught.

So remember, usually, honest people will not be afraid to be open with you both physically and verbally.


Touching the chest and exposing palms are two gestures that complement each other well  - we show that we speak from our heart and we have nothing to do with the accusations.

This is often the gesture that accompanies "I don't know" = I honestly don't know

Moving On

Alright, so far so good - we learned that we can tell a lot only by looking at the way how someone is exposing or shielding his front side. On the next part I want to focus on some more specific body gestures that can tell a story of their own:

Body Gestures Part 2

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