Does body language tell the truth?

Published 4:49 pm Wednesday, April 25, 2007

We’ve heard a lot about body language from Bill O’Reilly’s desk from Tanya Reiman, the beautiful blonde who peels back the layers to determine what is really being said. She has accolades from different organizations such as the IRS and MSNBC as well as FOX News on her website at

There are several questions and answers on the site and one question was, “Every time I have to go on a stage or in front of a camera to make a speech or just receive something I am always so nervous and I feel like everybody notices that, so I was wondering how should I hide that or what should I or should not do to act more confident in front of people.”

Reiman answers, “There are several ways to appear more confident – pull back your shoulders and push your chest forward, maintain eye contact with your audience, never speak behind a podium (your audience might get the impression you are hiding from them), keep your hands visible and your legs steady with equally balanced weight on each leg and finally, Smile…. A smile screams confidence and makes you feel better as well. In addition, you want to work on actually feeling more confident as well. Hypnosis can work wonders for confidence.”

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So the questions are raised, is body language really the truth? If a person can act confident while the knees are knocking and the stomach is all a quiver, does body language give true signals of what’s going on behind the fake smile?

According to a Harvard Management Communications report, numerous myths abound about body language. Some body language is faked and sometimes it can indicate something different than what is generally believed about that non-verbal action.

According to a report published in the Journal of Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 60 percent of those studied lied at least once in a 10-minute conversation telling an average of two to three lies. The study was conducted by Robert S. Feldman, Assoc. Dean of Behavioral Sciences at the University of Massachusetts. The way the researchers knew the participant was lying was because the participant admitted it while viewing the video of his own interview.

Lying is a gender specific issue, he says. The study shows that men do not lie more than women, nor is the reverse true. However, men lie differently than women. “Women were more likely to lie to make the person they were talking to feel good, while men lied most often to make themselves look better,” Feldman said.

“It’s so easy to lie,” Feldman says. “We teach our children that honesty is the best policy, but we also tell them it’s polite to pretend they like a birthday gift they’ve been given. Kids get a very mixed message regarding the practical aspects of lying, and it has an impact on how they behave as adults.”

The Harvard Management Communication Letter, printed in 2002, printed an article by Nick Morgan, a communications specialist and author. Morgan says there are many myths associated with nonverbal communication. We think that a liar can’t look us directly in the eyes. When a group was asked what are the signs of lying, shifty eyes and squirming were voted the top indicators. That isn’t necessarily so, says Morgan. “Nervousness can, for example, manifest itself as shifty eyes. But there are many reasons for nervousness. To understand what the behavior means, you still have to interpret the emotion. Second, (studies have) found that one group in particular excels at making eye contact that appears very sincere: pathological liars. Hence, it is not safe to rely on eye contact as a measure of sincerity or truthfulness.”

Morgan cites Paul Ekman in his article. Ekman is the author of “Telling Lies: Clues to Deceit in the Marketplace, Politics, and Marriage”. In this work, Ekman exposes as myth that people smile only when they are happy. He describes many kinds of smiles, from the ‘felt’ or true smile to the fear smile, the contempt smile, the dampened smile, the miserable smile, and a number of others.

An expert on facial tell-tales is Daniel McNeill who wrote “The Face: A Natural History”. In that volume he states, “Smiling is innate and appears in infants almost from birth… The first smiles appear two to twelve hours after birth and seem void of content. Infants simply issue them, and they help parents bond. We respond; they don’t know what they’re doing. The second phase of smiling begins sometime between the fifth week and fourth month. It is the social smile, in which the infant smiles while fixing its gaze on a person’s face.”

Every grandmother would probably disagree with that.

Morgan says it is a myth that you can’t trust a fast-talking salesman. While it is widely believed that “speed and deception go together,” speed of speech if slow is a stronger indicator of deception. Speech laced with pauses and errors such as non-words like “ah, uh, umm” and partial words in statements like, “I rea-really liked it,” may be deception clues.

Eckman said, “These vocal clues to deceit—speech errors and pauses—can occur for two related reasons. The liar may not have worked out her line ahead of time. If she did not expect to lie, or if she was prepared to lie but didn’t anticipate a particular question, she may hesitate or make speech errors. But these can also occur when the line is well prepared. High detection apprehension may cause the prepared liar to stumble or forget her line.”

Humans find it very hard, as a general rule, to mask their emotions, most of the studies in body language indicate. “Those same studies also show us that we are not very good at decoding those emotions, either,” Morgan adds.

Tonya Reiman says that it is true that the eye dilates when a person is experiencing attraction for another. She also says that the dilated eye happens in low lighting, or fear can make the eye dilate as well.

So if you are gazing romantically into the eyes of your partner with the lights low and soft music playing, dilated pupils may or may not mean that he or she is madly attracted to you. It may just mean that the lighting is too dim.