Body Language and Persuasion: A Scientific Approach
By Noah Goldstein, Ph.D.

Everywhere you look—cable news shows, men’s and women’s magazines, bookstores, and even bestseller lists—there are people from all walks of life, claiming to be experts in body language. Many of these individuals insist that they are one of the enlightened few to have a deep understanding of the secrets of how to influence others with nonverbal communication.

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Social psychologists Bob Fennis and Marielle Stel (in press) recently conducted several experiments to test their hypothesis that certain nonverbal styles are better at facilitating certain types of influence strategies than others. The two types of nonverbal styles they examined were known as “eager” and “vigilant”. (Cesario & Higgins, 2008).  

Cesario & Higgins characterize an eager nonverbal style as “approach-oriented”:

  • very animated, broad opening movements
  • hand movements openly projected outward
  • forward-leaning body positions
  • fast body movements
  • a fast speech rate

In contrast, they characterize a vigilant nonverbal style as “avoidance-oriented”:

  • more precise gestures
  • backward-leaning positions
  • slower body movements
  • slower speech