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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » Mentally Speaking » » Windows Into The Soul: Unlocking The Secrets To Body Language by David Theil (25 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

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MagicalEducator
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No offence is taken...why can't we disagree? The concern that I have here is that the book is suggesting that non-verbal/body language reading is a science. It's not. You use the example cold reading and that's a perfect description of what reading non-verbal cues actually is. There are simply too many variables which leads reading behaviour as something that's superficial and unreliable practice. This has been my professional experience investigating criminal activity while working at the Ministry of the Attorney General. As Karen Stollznow in her work "Body Language (Don't) Read my Lips" notes:

"...there is no formula for understanding behavior, and every act has numerous potential meanings and causes. Our “body language” is subject to context, intent and interpretation. It is influenced by culture and socialization and differs at the individual level.

I note that above David references Paul Eckman who's recent work isn't peer reviewed as "...enemies of the United States follow his work closely." He sounds rather tin foil hat if you ask me.

Another reference that is idea of the 1972 study from Albert Mehrabian 93% rule which is often quoted in popular culture. On this Stollznow correctly observes:

"There has been much research on this topic, but no study has categorically proven there is a precise ratio of verbal to nonverbal communication. This myth is often used by other writers who have generalized these findings to all communication, and created this unscientific sound bite. Books about body language are full of anecdotes and hype. They include references to authors who support their theories, but no citations to the studies. Their claims, theories and models are unsupported by evidence. They invoke the names of legitimate scholars and irrelevant research to validate the practice."

I could go on but I think the point is made. There is no science that proves the scientific validity of body language. There is no doubt that body language can transmit meaning but at this time behavioural scientists are unable to reliably agree on what these mean. So we're back to anecdotal stories and generalizations both of which are not science. Despite this I'm certain that David's book would provide much material for a pseudo demonstration/presentational frame for reading body language/non-verbal cues.

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David Thiel
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Yes, Jeff. We can disagree. In fact we do disagree.

I've used body language reading in my performances for many years. You are right in saying that there are exceptions to every rule. A man with crossed arms isn't necessarily blocking or sending signals of being insecure or possibly aggressive. Maybe he is more comfortable that way. But people do indeed telegraph their thoughts and feelings quite eloquently when they are taken off guard or surprised. I know it is true because I've personally seen it again and again. And I agree that there is still a lot of pop crap out there about body language. But it doesn't invalidate the growing mounds of good material.

As an interrogator, I assume you are familiar with Joe Navarro. Surely you're not suggesting his work has no merit.

In prepping for the book and in my studies on body language I must agree that it is as much an interpretive art as a science. But there is tremendous merit to learning it. Police forces, governmental agencies, corporations, law professionals all employ body language experts. Are they without merit? And I vehemently disagree with the notion that microexpressions don't offer instant and true insights. Why? I have seen them first hand over and over again. Do they appear on every face? Of course not. But I don't need peer approval to convince me that Ekman's work has tremendous merit as well.

I refuse to get into a debate with you, Jeff. You have made your views clear. I respect your right to them. You are obviously intelligent. But again: the real evidence to me is what I have SEEN and techniques that I know firsthand that work because I've used them over and over again. If didn't believe in these ideas had absolute value, I would not have written the book.

David
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WooverM
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Jeff you clearly have a prior disbelief regarding any body language research, I won't try to sway you one way or another. I found value in David's book. You are always free to not buy it yourself, or you might want to do buy it and just to prove how wrong and inaccurate David and all of the studies are to actually try and implement what you are learning from it, wheter you think it is pseudo or not, into your work and see how it works for you. Either way is fine.
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As a criminal investigator I've seen, used and been trained in identify signs of deception. I was actually quite good at it. Still, I understand the lack of hard science behind it. This leaves us at the position that David describes ..."an art". That I would totally agree with. David has many anecdotal examples from performing which support his position as do I. Both as a performer and in a law enforcement setting. Again, this isn't science which is my only point about this thread. I still plan on picking up the book as I'm interested in the presentational frames David suggests. I'm also interested in what he has to say about taking from micro expressions in a jazz type situation. An opportunistic performer can take credit for all manner of convenient coincidences. I remember performing at a private party and while trying to think of an interesting way to reveal the city of Antwerp I looked down to the floor and saw an ant. I obviously went with it saying I can't be certain about your location, I feel like it's in Europe. I then pointed out the ant and there faces went white when I innocently made the connection.

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David Thiel
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That's a great example. And I often wish there were hard and fast "rules" for applying things like body language to mentalism, Jeff. There aren't any.

Using body language effectively really is all about context anyway. An example from the book: two volunteers. One is a True Believer -- who buys into the whole ESP premise. The other is a committed sceptic. The performer makes a "hit" on something...maybe a reveal on a CT or a bulls eye on a co*d read. What happens?

Chances are that, given that both hold very strong views of the whole issue of telepathy, you will draw a microexpression. Let's back it up just a little further. I define a microexpression as an expression that flickers across a the subject's face in response to a strong or unexpected emotion. Given that you DO draw a microexpression, the True Believer is likely to show the "Happy" microexpression, whereas the sceptic will more than likely show "Surprise." The True Believer is happy because what they believe has been confirmed. The sceptic is surprised because something they have held to be true is being challenged by in-their-face experience. Both expressions are confirmations. Both are absolutely true....but the microexpressions are different because the people, and their worldviews are different. Does that make sense?

I don't necessarily see body language as the SOLE way of seeing into how a person is feeling. But when combined with co*d read*ng techniques, I've honestly seen tremendous results. It is very much like mind reading because they don't speak, but you know what they're feeling.

Every person is different. Some are a rich source of body language cues, others give very little away. I'm simply saying that in my experience, knowing body language and how to read it can be a powerful addition to a performer's arsenal. It is for me, anyway.

David
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Steven Keyl
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A little late to the party here but I'd like to add a few things. First off, while not a criminal investigator, for the last 20 years I've been working in classified programs for the federal government in the Defense and Intelligence sectors. During that time, I've had the privilege of working in a number of varied roles in various capacities. Also, I'm half-way through my own book dealing with influence, persuasion, coercion and deception. Although nonverbal communication only comprises one chapter in my book, this is a topic that I most certainly feel is in my wheelhouse.

The debate as to the efficacy of nonverbal communication seems endless at times. Jeff writes:
Quote:
...there is no formula for understanding behavior, and every act has numerous potential meanings and causes. Our “body language” is subject to context, intent and interpretation. It is influenced by culture and socialization and differs at the individual level...

There has been much research on this topic, but no study has categorically proven there is a precise ratio of verbal to nonverbal communication...

Books about body language are full of anecdotes and hype.

There is no doubt that body language can transmit meaning but at this time behavioural scientists are unable to reliably agree on what these mean


All of these points I fully agree with, but I'm still a firm believer in the utility of body language to tell us a lot about the mental state of another person. Here's a snippet from the end of my chapter on body language

Quote:
Is all this body language stuff real?

In discussing the importance of body language--both the signals we convey and how we interpret the signals of others--some have confessed a healthy dose of skepticism as to whether all of this is real and the behaviors as pronounced as claimed. There are many lab studies that appear to show that nonverbals offer little value in determining the mental state of others, specifically with regard to deception. While we cover detecting deception in chapter 5 it is important to understand a few things about these types of studies.

Nearly all of these studies involve a person telling a truth or lie under very controlled conditions and looking to see what nonverbals would be present in such situations. This demonstrates a complete misunderstanding of how nonverbal communication works. As discussed in the beginning of this chapter, nonverbals work because the limbic system (which controls our response to genuine fear) acts independently of our cognitive, higher order processes. Asking a test subject to lie or tell the truth does not instill in them the fear that would be necessary to invoke a limbic response. In other words, they have a very low level of motivation to be believed. In real life situations, where consequences may be significant, a limbic response will give away the person’s emotional state if someone is observant enough to catch it.

This research is also based on the faulty premise that there are certain behaviors that are unique to telling the truth or telling a lie. This simply isn’t how nonverbal communication works. These studies do not attempt to establish behavioral baselines nor do they give any consideration to evaluating behaviors in context.

Artificially motivating subjects to lie or tell the truth does not identify the ability of appropriately trained people to assess the credibility of those subjects because all responses are cognitive and do not engage the limbic system.


It is generally a misunderstanding of how nonverbal leakage happens that leads one to conclude these behaviors provide no probative value. So while I agree with Jeff on most of his points, I do think there is a lot more to it.
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David Thiel
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Great points, Steven.

The issue with using Body Language to reveal what people are really thinking is that there aren't any hard and fast rules. As has already been posted: applying BL correctly is as much an art as it is a science.

But, in the same way that some guys play the averages, a performer who knows what to look for can do the same thing with body language cues. And the great thing is that people have no idea how to lie with their bodies.

I've tried to upload a picture. I'm not sure if it's here or not. It's a shot I used in the book because it oozes body language. My readers have been invited to use what they learned to make educated guesses about what Armstrong is feeling at that exact moment.

The image is of Lance Armstrong as he is being interviewed by Oprah. This is the interview where he promised he would come clean about cheating. If you examine the image (hopefully you can?) you see a number of clear body language cues:

1) His lips are pursed. This is a clear sign many give when they are withholding something...trying NOT to say something. You see this face often on witnesses who are being cornered into giving testimony they don't want to give...or someone who is trying not to say something that will confirm the suspicions about what they've done. (Like...ummm...I dunno...maybe taking banned substances to get an edge on their competitors.)

2) His hands are clasped together over his lap. This is a classic "protect the jewels" posture. You will see many people who are insecure or feeling under attack using this posture. There can be no question that Armstrong is feeling uncomfortable -- particularly when you consider the subject matter under discussion.

3) The thing that DOESN'T fit: those widely crossed legs. Body Language experts call this the "Cowboy Cross." It got its name from the postures taken by "alpha" types. It's a uniquely North American posture that takes up a lot of room. (An interesting historical note: Germans watched guys in this posture during WWII as a way to detect American spies.) The Cowboy Cross is a way many people use to exercise dominance. Going back to our simian roots, generally the arms are flung wide behind the man, making a display of the...well..."man stuff" meaning he is supremely confident. You would expect that a truly sorry person would have their legs flat on the ground. Lance still feels a strong sense of personal power and dominance.

The picture gives two completely different possible conclusions. Hands and lips point to guilt and/or discomfort. The widely crossed legs tell the story of someone who isn't sorry about anything and may even be angry at the topic being discussed.

More interesting is actually watching the interview (look it up online. It's easy to find) because a little while after this image was taken Oprah asks Armstrong if he's sorry for what he did. He says he regrets it...but there's one microexpression that flickers across his face: the small downturn (almost a twitch)at the corner of his mouth. If you study body language, you know precisely what he's feeling. That's pure contempt.

Each one of these signals, taken on their own, lead to an individual conclusion. But you don't have any true information about how the person is REALLY feeling until you've observed them just a little longer to get a sense of their context.

And that's what I mean when I say that applying body language is as much an art as it is a science. Context is king -- which is why using it in a mentalism show isn't for everyone. But in all honesty...I use it all the time both on and off the stage. It's a huge help to me.

Just in case the picture isn't displayed or available (since I have no idea how to upload a pic here), if you drop me a PM or email, I'll send it to you.

I'd also be happy to post some other images and discuss them if you're interested. I find the whole area fascinating. I just didn't want to be THAT GUY -- the one who goes on and on about something no one has any interest in.

David

Click here to view attached image.
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Steven Keyl
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Good stuff, David. For me, the "art" part of studying nonverbals is knowing when to disregard certain cues. If a person is anxious and nervous to begin with, their body language will tend to run all over the place and in my experience, it can be difficult if not impossible to get a good read on them. Another situation, and obviously this doesn't apply to performance settings, but dealing with psychopaths or people demonstrating subclinical psychopathy. The amygdala isn't functioning correctly so they don't express the limbic response typical of a normal person. For these people, they can lie all day (and quite convincingly) and you will never see any nonverbal leakage because they just don't experience the fear and anxiety that the rest of us do.

You also mention needing to watch someone for a while to get a "sense of their context." This is so very important. Being able to baseline a person is such a key thing in order to know when they've deviated from it. Without that, you may not be aware of affectations that would otherwise appear as nonverbal signals.

The Lance Armstrong interview that you brought up is a great teaching moment when talking about behavior clusters. A mistake a lot of people make after reading up on body language is that they see crossed arms, or the American "figure 4" as you mentioned, and they immediately jump to a conclusion about the person's state of mind. You can only link mental state to nonverbal behavior when you see it show up in a cluster. You mention several things in that interview that, when taken together, indicate that his verbal message and the nonverbal message are not congruent. That's a far more reliable measure than just seeing one thing and reaching a false conclusion.

I do this all the time when I watch televised interviews. It's amazing how often you can spot when someone is being deceitful, or contemptuous, or some way in which the verbal message isn't congruent with the nonverbal (or paralinguistic) channels. The more practice you put in watching people the easier these things are to spot.

The image you posted came through and I'd be happy to continue this thread ad nauseum. We may lose everybody else along the way but at least we'll have fun. Smile
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kinesis
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I regularly analyse the body language of celebrities and VIPs for the media here in the UK. I was aware that David was bringing this out but didn't realise it was available. I may well pick this up and post a review.
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I don't know a single eminent psychologist, or serious law enforcement professional, who rates body language as anything more than tabloid magazine flim flam.
David Thiel
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We are all entitled to our opinions, View. But here's something to think about...from the first chapter of my book:

"Read This Scene:
Your significant other is standing in front of you. Her mouth is one tight line. Her head juts toward you. Her arms are crossed. Her eyes are squinty.
“What’s wrong?” you ask. She hasn’t said anything, but you have this sneaking suspicion...
“Nothing’s wrong,” she says through clenched teeth.
Do you believe her words or her body? Give this your careful consideration for about six seconds. The obvious conclusion? You’re in very deep trouble.
Congratulations. You just used body language to divine someone’s true emotions. You know the words she just said don’t mean anything, but her body was communicating a clear message: You’re scre*ed."

Tell me, View: Is that a valid scenario...a way to interpret body language to learn that what she is saying and what she is feeling are two entirely different things? Given that you concede that (and who wouldn't?) is it so far fetched to think that maybe -- just maybe -- there might be something to all the science about microexpressions...the many studies and papers done...?

Have you read Joe Navarro -- a key interrogator for the FBI (which, I think is a pretty serious law enforcement agency) who writes at length about how he uses body language as ONE COMPONENT in finding out if people are telling the truth?

How about Dr. Paul Ekman -- who was Time Magazine's Man of the year in 2009 -- precisely because of his work in the field of body language? Is he eminent enough for you?

Harvard scientist Dr. Amy Cuddy? She's the eminent researcher who learned how body posture impacts testosterone levels.

I agree that body language WAS the stuff of tabloids -- and it still is in many cases. But don't discount the literal hundreds of scientific studies of how we communicate with our bodies. These are studies done by law enforcement, marketing companies, lawyers, negotiators...many professions.

The real proof for me? I use my readings of body language every single day. I have used it in every show. I KNOW it works. You have to filter out the crap, but there is still very solid basis for learning how people are really feeling.

The issue many people have with it is that they are looking for hard and fast rules. They don't see that interpreting body language is BOTH an art and a science.

To be very frank: I find it annoying, View, that you show up on this thread having not even read or seen my book and spout off ill informed opinion disguised as fact. Guess what my body is communicating to you right now?

David
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VIEW
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HI David

Don't get grumpy. This is just the internet. I'm giving you my measured view. When you sell a product you should expect people to challenge you and your work. Handle it with maturity and professionalism.

You misunderstand Cuddys work deeply and fundamentally if you even mention it in this conversation. Not only is it not, in research terms, principally about body language at all (instead the potential ideomotive impact of a posture on one's sense of state), but it's also been dismantled by every single other academic that has tried to test and replicate it. Have you read the follow up duplication trials? None, not one, were replicable.

Being Time's man of the year neither makes Ekman's work more credible or venerable. Hitler & Stalin were Time's men of the year in 1938 & 39 - should we live by everything they said? What authority do you think Time magazine has in this world? Vast amounts of his work are based on his own anecdotal and unevidenced interpretation of qualitative scenarios. He's a popcorn scientist.

Re Navarro - sorry, I don't accept airport business books as evidence of your position.

Speak to any credible researcher, who's investigated the generalisable and replicable efficacy of body language, and they'll all agree. Film Flam.

But hey, it helps to sell Ekmans books. And Navarro's.

And yours.
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View: I have not yet begin to get grumpy. But if you review this thread you will find that I've already done this dance a couple of times with other people who take it upon themselves to trash a book they've never read because they don't like the subject matter. And they will usually close with a cheap shot like you just did...the oh-so-clever "And yours." Think about it: a complete stranger, hidden behind the anonymity of the Internet stomps in, disses a book and then infers I'm selling a lie for the vast amount of money I'm making from an ebook...and I'm not supposed to find that offensive?

Yikes! What can I say in the face of such stinging invective?

If you choose to discount experts from Harvard and the FBI...if you choose to ignore the many scientific studies...I have nothing to say to you. It's pointless.

I know it works because I use it. I have first hand experience. If you don't agree...don't buy the book. Like...please...don't.

And let's save each other the trouble and aggrivation, shall we? You're going to get nastier and I'm going to get more annoyed because we are speaking two completely different languages. I'll keep saying I know it works because I use it. I'll cite references. You'll say it doesn't work and there's no proof that it does and that my references suck. I will disagree. No one is going to shift position because we both believe different things. Judging by your last comment, you have no problem making personal attacks on people you don't know. We will just go round and round. It's the troll dance. I suspect you find this exercise entertaining. I don't.

If I thought we could have an actual debate about this I would welcome it. That's not going to happen.

David
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magic maniac
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Quote:
On May 18, 2016, VIEW wrote:

Speak to any credible researcher, who's investigated the generalisable and replicable efficacy of body language, and they'll all agree. Film Flam.



Can you please confirm this. How many credible reseachers have you spoken with to make this a valid statement ?
David Thiel
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I just watched something excellent that I wanted to share with you.

It's an analysis of the interview where Lance Armstrong admitted to Oprah that he cheated. Sort of.

This is an invitation to read his mind...by looking at his body language. Give it a try.

If you've read about Body Language on any level, Lance's lips are an eloquent spokesman for what he's really feeling. Lips pursed tight nearly always signal that he knows more than he is saying...or is trying to minimize the damage the words could possibly do. In effect, he's keeping the words inside. Those same lips signal very clearly the powerful emotions of pride and contempt. See for yourself in the clip. Fascinating.

Watch his hands...his knees. Watch the moments of his head and eyes when he looks away. Listen to what he's talking about each time when he stops to put his hand to his mouth. Also interesting is the movement of his head as he contemplates an answer, the placement of his hands...

Can you tell when he's lying in this video...and when he's telling as much truth as he is prepared to? Is he REALLY sorry?

There's a very good live analysis of the body language in this clip as well.

IF body language fascinates you as much as it does me, let me suggest that you watch the clip the FIRST time with the sound down. Draw your own conclusions. Don't even try to figure out what he's talking about...just watch to see what he's saying with his body.

Then watch it again -- this time with the sound up and take another look at your conclusions.

The clip is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QLgU7FTVkc8

Hope you enjoy it.

David
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