July 21, 2017

Body Emblems

The actions which signal emotion!

As mentioned in our basics section an emblem is our body performing a physical version of a Freudian slip. We form fists when we are angry, we tap our feet when we want to walk away, we cross our arms when we feel vulnerable and we shake our arms when we want to beat down a point.

If you are a beginner in reading body language, then this page is a great place to start as  no body part of our bodies are safe (except for what you cover with underwear).

So with that out of the way, we can begin.


Illustrators and manipulators

Illustrators are used as a tool for us to describe what we are talking about.  For example try and describe the letter Z to someone and you will probably find yourself doing it.  Illustrators are very common amongst certain culutes (Italian for example) but not so prevalent in others.

Manipulators however involve actions like scratching the neck, nose, ear and mouth in response to our ANS system making those body parts itchy.

Therefore if you see an increase in Manipulators and a Decrease in illustrators I should suggest there is also an increase in fiction and a decrease in truth.


When a presenter uses illustrators (hand movements) the listeners are more likely to retain what the presenter was saying.  Note in this video an increase in cheers as Hitler moved his arm about and increased his vocal frequency.  And when a person clenches their hands together it is usually a sign of frustration, while clenching a single fist is a sign of anger.   Look out for this next time you are dining out, or in a business meeting.



To conclude our segment on hands we will discuss people who walk around with their hands behind their back.  Two types of people do this; criminals in handcuffs and pretentious people.  However that been said some psychologists see the hands behind the back as a sign of power and confidence.  On the subject of hands behind the back  look out for self hugs with one hand hold the other arm.  This is a sign of anxiety, which easily contradicts the image of power and confidence.

Hand to head

There is a ratio of neck support to hand support for our head weight which is a great indicator of interest.  On one extreme, if our fingers are resting on our faces, it shows interest, and on top of this if the figures are stroking an imaginary beard (or real one) it is a indicator of deep thought.

On the other extreme the hand is completely supporting the head weight it would suggest that their mind is of in la la land.  Most head leans you will see however will be somewhere between these two extremes, however it is still  useful method to analyze how interested someone is in your presentation.


The crossed arms resting on the chest is a sign that a person is cold, or that they have a negative attitude to what is been presented to them.  Next time you are in a class, or seminar, just look around to see how many people sit with this pose.    And this is another chicken and egg example where a negative attitude leads to crossing arms, yet crossing arms also lead to negative attitudes.  Experienced public speakers have tricks to get people moving about if they spot large numbers within their audience doing this.

Other forms of this barrier include the constant cuff link / watch adjustments, and double handed coffee cup barrier.

Another common arm gesture to see is the self hug.  This occurs when someone will hold their hand, wrist, elbow, bicep or shoulder with their opposite hand.  This is one of the most commonly seen signs of anxiety which you are likely to come across.

If you look around your café (or bar so long as everyone is still sober) you will notice people attempting to fake a cool calm image, by leaning back, legs spread out, chest out, and head up.  However this ‘Iceman’ pose is often betrayed by figity fingers and self hugs to the hands.

Furthermore to this there is the famous broken zipper pose with the hands covering an imaginary zipper.  This pose could indicate that the man in question feels his manhood is been threatened, or that there is some kind of problem with… what he is covering.  For example Hitler used to have at least one hand in front of his groin as a subconscious emblem to hide the fact that he only had one testicle.


Exposed Palms are the ultimate sign of submission.  In the same way that a cat will expose its throat to its loving owner, we will expose our palms to people who we trust.  From an evolutionary perspective it is a gesture to state complete trust as we are exposing easy access to our veins.

Try talking to people with your palms open and you will notice everyone been more open to what you are saying.

Note the below link in regards to a Australian Football Sex scandal, where the women in question exposes her palms where she confesses about lying in the recent interview.  This is a gesture to say I am been open and honest with you.  (Also note the self hugs after the confession)




Studies conducted at Pease International have concluded that public speakers should never point their finger while making a speech.  Although it is a sign of passion, listeners tend to turn of.  To put this as an emblem, the finger acts as a mini baton which they are using to beat the point down with.   “I did not have sexual relations with that woman”



Another gesture commonly seen in speeches is the index finger against the thumb.  This presents the image of been focused and thoughtful.

However when the index finger rubs back and forth against the thumb this is an entirely different meaning.   A meaning that sounds like “Show me the money!”

And a hint to all you rich gentlemen out there.  If a lady is doing that on your first date, chances are she is a gold digger….

Finally the steeple.  The steeple is when all fingers from both hands are lined together to make a point.  For a short time this indicates heavy thought, but if held for long periods can be interpreted as pretentiousness.

And finally is John Smith is picking at his arm, beverage label, or fingers it means frustration, or anxiety.  I was at a BBQ once and I saw a friend pick away his beer bottle label, so I asked him what was frustrating him.  He then confided that he was day dreaming about a home DIY project and was frustrated about how to proceed with an obstacle he had come across.  The important lesson here was that his frustration had nothing to do with the BBQ or  anyone at it.

Legs and feet

In our personal opinions, the feet are the best tools for reading body language.  And the reason for this is that we are all so conscious about our torsos, arms, face and voice that is it often difficult to read what they are thinking.  However we all seem to forget about our feet, which can show boredom, who they fancy, deceit and where they would rather be.

Feet direction

Our feet always point to where we want to be.  Next time you are in a bar or party, look out for a groups of guys chatting up a group of girls.  You will most likely notice that although they are all having their own conversations, the gentlemen’s feet will be pointing towards the girls they are interested in.

Also in feet direction it indicates where a person wants to go.  For example if the feet are pointing to the door, instead of the person the are talking to….. well no need to explain that one.

Feet movement

When you refer to emblems, you will see that our body imitates or mimics what our subconscious would rather be doing, and a our feet are no exception.  Tapping feet, or shaking calves are always a sign that a person would rather be else where.

However don’t always take this as an insult, as it could just be a case of your audience desperately needing a nicotine fix or a bathroom break.

Also notice that people will tend to stake a backwards step if they feel in shame in what they just said (eg a lie, said something inappropriate) as an emblem that we want to retreat from what we just said.

Ankle lock

The ankle lock is a diet version of the arm lock where a person is not protective against what is presented to them, yet not closed enough to it to leave.   For example if you see a suitor chatting up a lady, and she is doing the ankle lock, it means the suitor has a shot, if he lifts his game.

For example it would be common to see in guests at a party where they don’t know may people.

Here is a not so fun exercise to try.  Next time a dentist has operated on your gums and pearly whites, look at how your feet are resting.  If I were a betting man, I would bet they are crossed.


A slow walk with arm swings is seen as a sign of confidence.  It also indicates that the person walking has little stress on their mind.  Also note the order in which people walk through bottle necks. The only example we will see in our everyday lives is that the host of a party will walk through a door way last.   If you ever you refer to meeting between world leaders you can see them often jostling to be the last person to walk through a door way.  Note the following 2 links of the former Australian Prime Minister and the Dalai Lama.



Hands on hips and legs spread

Watching any sport and you will notice the coach taking this stance. This is the stance of domination and leadership.  In our hotel days, we used this trick to find tour leaders guides of traveling groups staying in the resort.


Chair straddle

What are your immediate thoughts when seeing someone doing this pose.  We have the spread legs which suggest dominance, the forward lean which suggests interest, and the chairs back to provide a protective barrier.

This pose is often taken by people who want you to perceive that they are leveling with you when really they are just trying to dominate the situation.

Body angle

Our body angles like our feet indicate where we would like to be.  In a normal 1 to 1 conversation your body angle should be at 45 degrees.



Leaning is often a sign that a person is very comfortable in their current environment.  Eg if leaning on the wall in the café que indicates they are a regualar.  Furthermore to this leaning into to something with a hand on it is a way of stating that we own it.  (car, partner, house etc)


A person with over correct posture is similar to a Frill Neck Lizard or Puffer Fish, in the sense of trying to make themselves look important or intimidating.  You can get these types of people to agree to almost anything if you serve their ego.  Note this extreme example of an Australian Frill Neck Lizard inflating its size to make it look more threatening.




In most cultures around the world, the vertical nod is a sign of yes, and the horizontal head shake is a sign of no.  To show agreement with someone presenting a lecture slow nods are the best way to indicate that you are in agreement and comprehend the message.  Fast nods however indicate you have heard enough and want to move on.

Head shakes are common for negative thoughts and are something good for deceit detection (when used cautiously).  The head shake represents the mind thinking no or can’t.

For example if a person was stating “He really surprised me in how well he did, I can’t believe he did so well”, it would indicate truthfulness as the person speaking was thinking of the word can’t.

However if the same person said “I only have respect and admiration for him” while shaking their head, it would indicate deceit.

Head position

A head in the up position indicates pretentiousness and confidence, the head to the side indicates submission and interest, and the head down indicates smaller sized ego and sometimes shame.