Body Language

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Body Language

What is Body Language?

Body language is an umbrella term for the major part of nonverbal communication in which physical behaviors, as opposed to words (verbal/linguistic communication), are used to express or convey a message or information. Typical body language categories are: facial expressions, body postures, gestures, eye movements, touch and the use of space. Body language is also called: "kinesics".


Unlike sign languages, body language does not have a grammar system nor is there an absolute meaning corresponding with a certain movement, so its meaning must be interpreted more broadly and it is insofar not a true formal "language". Interpretations of a particular behavior may vary according to the culture, country or region and time.


There is a controversy on whether body language is universal. Some of it is; a bigger part of it probably isn't. Body language certainly a subset of nonverbal communication and complements verbal communication in social interaction. In fact, nonverbal communication is believed to account for a large part of the information and emotions transmitted during interpersonal interactions, although it is more ambiguous.


Breakdown of Body Language Subcategories

Here is a comprehensive list of the existing subcategories of body language. Note that most of these can be used consciously (see: Impression Management) and inconsciously and voluntary and involuntary.

  • Facial expressions (combinations of eyes, eyebrow, lips, nose and cheek movements)
  • Head and neck signals (nodding, shaking, lowering, raising, tilting of the head)
  • Body postures (sitting, standing, posture and movement of chest/shoulders)
  • Gestures (movements made with hands, arms, fingers, head, legs)
  • Handshakes (typically a greeting ritual)
  • Breathing (deeper and slow versus shallower and more rapid)
  • Oculesics (eye movement, eye behavior and gaze)
  • Haptics (touching, handshakes, holding hands, back slapping, high fives, brushing up against someone, patting someone)
  • Proxemics (spatial distances or zones between people as they interact: Edward T. Hall's famous 4 interpersonal zones: Intimate (< 46cm), Personal (46cm - 1,2m), Social (1.2m - 3,7m), Public (> 3,7m))
  • Tone of voice (high/low, loud/soft, friendly/angry)
  • Attitude (like/dislike, rapport with another person, formal/informal, mirroring and matching)
  • Readiness (readiness to take action, agressiveness, physical or social readiness)
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