Body Language: The Observable Polygraph Test

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Body Language: The Observable Polygraph Test

“I speak two languages, body and English.” In this famous quote, Ralph Waldo Emerson states that he is, in a sense, bilingual. He is able to verbally speak English, while at the same time nonverbally “speak” body language. Michael Argyle, a psychologist at Oxford, also stated that “Humans use two quite separate languages [language and nonverbal communication], each with its own function” (Beattie 19). All humans have the capacity to simultaneously comprehend these two languages, yet few know they possess this accurate skill. Body language is defined as the “mixture of movement, posture, and tone of voice” of an individual (Boe). Charles Darwin recognized reading body language as an accurate skill in 1872, and he became the first to study it. He published his findings in The Expressions in Man and Animals, but at first experts doubted his theories (Boe). Darwin’s theories were disregarded up until 1972, when Albert Mehrabian also decided to test the accuracy of nonverbal communication. According to Mehrabian’s study, body language is comprised of 55 percent facial expression and body movement, 38 percent tone of voice, and seven percent verbal messages (Johnson). That being said, nonverbal signals make up 93 percent of all communication. Mehrabian concluded that the most effective use of body language is to accurately read others, take in information, and respond accordingly to what was seen. When nonverbal signals are correctly read, they are more accurate than words could ever be. Polly Sparling, the author of the article “Say…What?” said body language is like an “emotional polygraph test”. Unless the body is intentionally trained otherwise, it is hardwired to tell the truth. Humans subconsciously point their feet in the direction they wish to go, their eyes move downwards and to the left when lying, and their pupils dilate when they see an item of interest. Not only do humans use their feet and eyes during communication, but their hands also play an important role. Hand gestures are comprehended more quickly than words, so they are unintentionally incorporated into everyday speech. Often time’s body language is used to avoid painful situations. According to Patrick Miller, author of the article Body Language in the Classroom, nonverbal signals can express feelings that are too disturbing to state. He also expressed that it is evident words have limitations, so in certain situations body language is a necessity. In order for individuals to accurately send and receive messages, they must be able to “speak” and read body language. Nonverbal signals like body language are done subconsciously and frequently expose the truth. Therefore, body language is the most accurate aspect of nonverbal communication. The first time body language was considered a significant, public issue was during the Nixon-Kennedy Presidential Debate of 1960. Those who watched the debate live or on television were captivated by Kennedy’s charming smile and youthful appearance (Boe). Nixon’s five-o’ clock shadow and his shifty eye movements gave voters second thoughts; he didn’t have a “presidential appearance” (Boe). In polls of those who physically saw the debate, Kennedy won by a landslide. However, radio listeners were positive Nixon had won the important first debate (Boe). The television emphasized the accuracy and significance of body language, and politicians from that day forward have had to learn “tricks of the trade” when it comes to physically impressing voters. After the 1960 presidential debate, a whole new dimension was added to politics. Politicians now have the option of being coached. That is, a “trainer” meets with them and they practice gestures, posture, facial expressions, and hand and eye movements. There are movements that show action, like finger pointing, as well as motions that should be avoided, for example crossing the arms behind the back...
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