Ways To Read Body Language, According To Science

by Erica Florentine

You might not think of non-verbals as important pieces of the communication puzzle, but much of what we convey to those around us isn’t through the words we use, but rather the way our bodies speak to them. There are scientific ways to read body language that can make it a whole lot simpler to understand what people are trying to say to us, even if they aren’t saying the words outright. Likewise, these tricks for reading body language can tell us a lot about what we convey to others through our own body language.

You have probably heard many times before that there are certain non-verbals that can tip us off to things like if someone is interested in us, or if they are lying to us about something. The key in determining these things is actually paying close attention to them. What you might find is that by close examination of how someone’s body is moving, you might learn a lot about their emotions and how they are feeling at any given moment. Of course, there are the super obvious things. For instance, if someone is crying, it's safe to assume that they are sad. However, other signs into body language are a lot more subtle, such as what direction a person faces their feet, or if their legs are wobbly or shaky. This article is aimed at providing some good insight into these subtle body language clues, and more. Here are 11 ways to read body language, according to science.

1. Know That Open Palms Are Telling

Let’s start by talking about the hands. Open palms can be very telling, as they’re associated with honesty, truth, and allegiance, according to The Definitive Book of Body Language. In the book, the authors note that humans tend to us their open palms to show they’re not a threat.

2. Look For Incongruence

For some thoughts on reading body language, I spoke to Vanessa Van Edwards, behavioral investigator, founder of, and instructor. Van Edwards says incongruence can speak volumes. “The biggest thing you want to look for when trying to read someone’s body language is if there is alignment between someone’s words and actions,” Van Edwards says in an email to Bustle. “If someone says they are happy, they should have a broad smile on their face. If someone says they are OK, they should have loose shoulders and a relaxed posture.”

Van Edwards also says it’s much easier for us to control the words we’re speaking versus our body language. That said, when you’re listening to someone talk pay close attention to things like their face and their voice tone to see if it matches what they’re verbalizing.

3. Keep Your Eyes On The Brows

Who would have thought eyebrows could speak? Well, looks like they can say a lot more than I ever thought, anyway. According to her article in Psychology Today, University of Massachusetts professor Susan Krauss Whitbourne said raised eyebrows can mean the person is worried, surprised, or even fearful.

4. Check Out Their Feet

Want to know if that guy or girl you’re crushing on is into you too? Check out their feet for a hint. When someone is into you they’ll turn their toes to point towards you, according to researcher Lisa Daily, author of Stop Getting Dumped! All You Need To Know to Make Men Fall Madly in Love With You and Marry ‘The One’ In 3 Years or Less. Daily wrote for the Huffington Post, “Our bodies line up when we’re in love (heart to heart, face to face).”

5. See If They’re Mirroring You

On that note, someone who is digging you might be lining up their whole body to you as well by mirroring your actions. Mimicking someone’s action shows likability, according to research published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. The research shows we are more drawn to liking people in return, too, if they mimic our movements.

6. Watch For Sudden Changes

Sudden changes in someone’s normal non-verbals or body language usually means they’re having an emotional spike of some kind, according to Van Edwards. “All of us have different nonverbal or body language tics that we use at rest,” Van Edwards says. “For example, some people twirl their hair or always have their hands in their pockets—if someone does this consistently it is called a ‘baseline behavior.’ Someone’s baseline behavior is the way they act normally, when they are calm.”

A sudden change can be something simple, but something you can’t miss if you’re paying close attention.

“Someone might be leaning back, with a slouched posture where all of the sudden they lean in, sit-up and start nodding. This would be a positive baseline change—indicating you said something exciting or interesting to them,” Van Edwards explains. “On the other hand a negative baseline change is when someone suddenly begins crossing their arms, leans back or fidgets.”

7. Remember That A Power Stance Speaks Volumes

Know someone who is always walking around in their best power stance, despite the situation? This might just very well be your most confident friend. Research out of Harvard Business School shows a dominant stance, like a power pose with your body open, arms out, and head up, is an indicator of confidence and feelings of power.

8. Notice If They Grimace

According to research discussed in Mirror, you can tell — in part — if someone is lying by the look on their face. For instance, if the person is grimacing, the chances they’re lying are greater.

9. Read The Eye Contact

Holding eye contact might be another sign that someone likes you, or is very interested in what you have to say. Scientific American noted research shows those who hold your eye contact have increased feelings of passionate love and affection.

10. Look For Wobbly Legs

Is the person sitting next to you shaking their legs uncontrollably? They might be nonverbally conveying to you that they’re very anxious, according to Whitbourne as discussed in her Psychology Today piece. Whitbourne wrote, “Shaking your legs while sitting sends a giant message to everyone around you about your inner feelings of anxiety or irritation or both.”

11. Know What They’re Thinking With Crossed Arms

I’ve heard before that if someone is crossing their arms they’re subconsciously closing themselves off for others around them. This is sort of true, but it can mean a lot of other things, too, according to The Definitive Book of Body Language, including that the person is feeling insecure, anxious, or stubborn. On the positive side, crossing arms can also mean the person is concentrating hard on completing a difficult task, according to a study discussed in Reader’s Digest.

These tricks for reading body language can make it very easy to tell how those around you are feeling, and if what they’re saying to you is truthful or not. Try these out today and you might just learn something interesting about your coworkers, friends, and/or family members.

Images: Pexels (2); Pixabay (10); Isla Murray/Bustle