Ever been completely off base when trying to figure out how your boyfriend, girlfriend, or crush felt about something? Have a hard time telling when someone is lying to you? It may be because you’re focused on facial expressions instead of body language.
A new study says that we’re all a lot better at gauging emotions based on body language than based on what someone’s face looks like. Researchers did a whole bunch of experiments to test this out, including showing volunteers photos of tennis players during highs and lows of matches. Based on the photos of the players’ faces, a lot of the volunteers got their assessments over wins and losses wrong–but when basing their judgments on body language from the neck down, they pretty much all nailed it. (Apparently, clenched fists indicated victory while splayed fingers were popular for the losers.)
It turns out, body language trumps even the biggest smiles in terms of how people perceive feelings. The researchers even put sad faces on happy bodies and smiling faces on sad ones, and volunteers spotted the joyous and bummed body language despite the head swaps.
Sometimes the discrepancies were pretty dramatic, too. When researchers showed volunteers photos of people grieving at funerals or getting home makeovers, they still bombed when body language wasn’t at play–they got most of the shots from the neck up wrong. (To be fair, there could be a few reasons for that, though: When people are super happy, a lot of them cry, just as they would if they were sad. If you’ve ever seen an episode of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, you’ll know!)
So what body language cues can you take to figure out what a certain someone is feeling? Experts say patting hair on the back of one’s head means they feel indecisive (remember that next time you try to make him choose the movie!). A tense jaw means he’s either pissed, hiding something, or both–yikes! If he’s tapping his foot a lot, he may not be impatient–it’s actually a sign of nervousness (probably because you’re so cute that you make him lose his cool). And if you want to know if a smile is genuine? Body language experts say to look for pouches of skin and crinkles around the eyes. A fake smile won’t have those!
One of the body language experts explained, “Western society has the idea that the most important source of information is the face. The research says maybe we should zoom out and try to take a broader look. Emotions happen to the whole person.” Still, they note that if you’re looking for more subtle cues, you should still stare at a guy’s mug. But it’s nice to have a new excuse to check out his bod!
Do you think facial expressions or body language tell more about someone’s emotions? Have you ever been way off base reading body language? What body image cues do you use yourself? Tell us in the comments!