The truth about body language

February 2018 Security Services & Risk Management

If you want a sure-fire way of knowing the truth about any aspect of a person, there are two main options. The first is that of the use of a polygraph test in order to find out the truth through a technical, reliable method. The second is that of reading the body language of the person in question in order to divulge what state the said person may be in.

These two methods of ‘reading’ another person are tried and tested. They are also very different to each other and yet simultaneously related. Scientifically, the study of body language is known as kinesics, or rather non-verbal communication. It can be used for both animals and humans, but for the purposes of this article I will focus on humans. It involves paying close attention to a person’s behaviour in order to discover intent.

The first thing to know about body language is that while it’s very useful in understanding one another, most of it is open to interpretation. There is no scientific method of studying another person’s body language and being able to say, “Hmm, he looked away… he’s guilty!”

While it’s a useful tool to help discover the truth, one cannot rely entirely on an understanding of body language as fact. In essence, there are five broad categories of body language that are worth mentioning. These include:

• Facial expressions.

• Body postures.

• Gestures.

• Handshakes.

• Breathing patterns.

I will here outline two prominent examples of body language – facial expressions and body posture – in order to provide a basic outline of the topic and how it relates to polygraph testing.

Body language expressions

The first, and perhaps most obvious, aspect of body language to consider is that of facial expressions. I say obvious because facial expressions are something that we use and interpret subconsciously on a regular basis.

Facial expressions are a way in which we are able to communicate our mood with minimum effort; we sometimes do this without even thinking. Pursed lips, a dark frown, wide eyes, and a silly grin – all are ways in which we communicate to others the way we feel or think about something.

A second example of body language that we use regularly is that of posture. The way in which you hold yourself is usually the first thing that someone notices about you. While this is usually something that occurs subconsciously it can also be assumed.

I have often, when meeting someone new, changed the way I stand – chest out, face up, shoulders and back straightened – in order to give an air of confidence. This is because the way you hold yourself gives others a first impression. Do you stand tall with pride and confidence or slouch?

These two methods of non-verbal communication are probably things you do on a regular basis. But how does any of this relate to polygraph testing? Well, both body language and polygraph testing are ways of finding out the truth.

Link to polygraphing

Body language is something that we can use in order to gauge the intent and emotions of a person based on how they act subconsciously. By paying attention to the details of a gesture or the look on a person’s face, you will be able to assess how that person is feeling. In this regard, polygraph testing can be seen as similar.

Polygraph testing is a method where several physiological keys – namely blood volume, breathing patterns and skin conductivity – are used to find out if a person is lying. In this way polygraph testing can be argued to make use of a much more subtle version of body language in order to assess the validity of what you say.

While body language is something we can see with a simple glance, polygraph testing can be used where body language fails. It is able to see through something that may be forced. It can be used in order to get to the truth.

While the two ways of assessing human intent are similar, they are not the same. Polygraph testing is more subtle and scientific, relying on measured aspects of your body’s’ reactions to a set of unique questions. They are, however, related and complement each other nicely. Would you prefer to rely on your own interpretations? Or would you employ the help of a lie-detecting test?

For more information, contact Len Nieuwoudt, Secure Polygraph Solutions,

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