Symbolism of body language

Since the beginning of what we call the human race we decode body language in order to survive. We were born with this capacity, a common heritage that goes beyond the spoken word.  When we try to hide our emotions in order not to reveal ourselves too much we can not avoid the signs of control by the unintentional gestures that belong to the emotion.

Synergology is a methodology in systematical analysis of gestures and facial expressions. When we look at someone’s face we immediately see that the left side of the face is more “talkative” than the right side. The explanation of this phenomenon gives the key to interpret the most eye-catching components. It is also important input in the interpretation of body language: which side of the body makes the act -or gesture.

The left hemisphere controls the right side of the body (and vice versa). However, both hemispheres do not function the same way. The left hemisphere regulates cognitive functions -in particular language, logic, strategy- and ‘scans’ the information rationally. It does not see engagement but rather distance. If a person is involved in a negative communication, the right side of the body will  show vigilance, distance, closure or rejection. The right hemisphere is taking care of our inner world in terms of the relationship, closeness and attention shown in the left side of the face and body with tendency to open up easier in relaxed situations.

Discoveries in synergology like the meaning of the hands to the face and body are main keys in the interpretation of body language. P.Turchet, founder of the discipline: ‘Our hands never go random to the face or the body. Each part of the body is specialized in a certain type of emotion , like it itches under the left nostril when someone is lying. I would itch under the right one if he thinks the other is lying. The symbolism in this kind of gestures of the left or right is like another dimension: the front and backside. Scratching the left backside of your head reflects a deadlock while touching the left forehead rather expresses personal problems’.

The right hemisphere works systematic while the left is analytic. The right hemisphere absorbes visual information and processes it while the left perceives this in a contrary way that conflicts with the right. The paradox is that the more we try to hide our emotions the more visible they are. It is particularly the outside world with whom the two hemispheres show a different relationship.

Example: the area under the nostrils is that of the lie. It itches under the left nostril when someone is lying. But as it itches under the right nostril, it shows us that the person thinks that his interlocutor is lying. For this kind of gestures the left or right means a change of perspective on the same symbolism. In this case the lie: the left concerns himself, the judge  the other.

The hands go in different ways to the face and body due to three different types of moods: Microdemangeaisons (‘itch’) are an expression of inner contradictions, microcaresses (a ‘soft pat’) expressing attention for oneself, and microfixations (of hand or finger) a moment of introspection.

The eyes are involved in relation to ‘time’: if you think about the past, your eyes go to the left and if we look to the right, we think about the future.

The direction of the eyes involved in relation to time is exactly the opposite in the Arab world and middle east. This phenomenon can affect gestures, what  dictates caution in reading and interpreting gestures.

Today it is clear that over 80% of our communication is expressed through body language. We make about six gestures per minute when we talk to someone. There are of course a number of cultural gestures, but they represent a small part compared to the billions of combinations of emotional attitudes.

The body is driven by emotions before there is reason to act for what comes. In case of danger the body already responds before the brain rationally realized the threat. It is therefore possible to visually observe this emotional intelligence.


About Gérard Stokkink

Gerard Stokkink, lecturer body language & non verbal communication
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