When you’re deep in conversation, how aware are you of your body language? All those nods, smiles, and gesticulations – you do know you do that, right? According to a new study in Personality and Individual Differences, how much insight we have into our body language is a kind of trait that can be measured from person to person. And what’s more, if you do remember your body language in detail, this may say something about the kind of person you are – specifically, you’re more likely to be anxious and neurotic in temperament.
Nora Murphy and her colleagues filmed dozens of undergrads as they had a five-minute chat with a stranger about any topic of their choosing. Afterwards, the students completed various psychological measures and they rated how much they thought they had engaged in various non-verbal behaviours during the chat, including nods, smiles, gestures and eye-contact. Meanwhile trained coders watched back footage of the chats and counted all instances of the students’ non-verbal behaviours. The researchers then simply compared the students’ estimates of their body language with the objective counts.
Overall, the students’ estimates of their different non-verbal behaviours correlated with the objective counts more than if they’d just been guessing, which suggests that most of us do have some insight into our own body language (zooming in on individual behaviours, nodding was the only movement where this insight seemed to be lacking).
But some students were better at remembering their body language than others, and the researchers found that this greater awareness correlated with a number of other personality measures. Summing up these patterns, Murphy and her team said “the results paint a portrait of a person with high non-verbal self-accuracy as an anxious, highly self-aware of his/her own mannerisms individual who is less willing to express positive emotions and sensitive to detecting anger in others.” This last point suggests people with more awareness of their own body language may be “especially sensitive to interpersonal cues of disapproval,” they said.
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