In humans, posture can provide important information on nonverbal communication and emotions. Psychological studies have shown the effects of body posture on emotions. This research can be traced back to Charles Darwin when he studied emotion and movement in man and animals. Currently, many studies have shown that certain patterns of body movements are indicative of specific emotions.

Open and closed body posture

Posture body language

An example of open posture.
  • Closed posture is a posture in which parts of the body most susceptible to trauma are obscured. These body parts are: throat, abdomenand genitals. Damage to the genitals prevents the transfer of their genes to future generations and is sometimes seen as being synonymous with death. Therefore, both humans and animals try to protect these vulnerable body parts from injury. In humans, certain behaviors may signal closed posture: Arms crossed on the chest or abdomen, hands clasped in front of the genitals, and crossing legs. Clothing may also signal closed posture: a buttoned suit, or a handbag or briefcase held in front of the person. Closed posture often gives the impression of detachment, disinterest, and hostility. Research has also shown that these behaviors usually convey unpleasant feelings. These feelings were evident when the participant had to observe the closed posture and when he or she was told to assume the posture.
  • Open posture is a posture in which the vulnerable parts of the body are exposed. The head is raised, the shirt may be unbuttoned at the neck, a bag is held on the shoulder or at the side. Open posture is often perceived as communicating a friendly and positive attitude. In an open posture the feet are spread and the head is straight. The palms are up and the hands and fingers are spread. Due to this friendly demeanor, research suggests that participants view counselors who use an open posture as more capable of providing guidance. An important element of closed or open posture of the body are the hands. Showing the palms of the hands can be a signal of open posture, especially if the hand is relaxed. Showing the back of the hand or clenching hands into fists may represent a closed posture. Hands clasped behind the back may also signal closed posture even though the front is exposed because it can give the impression of hiding something or resistance to closer contact.

Closed and open posture also apply when seated. Crossed legs and arms can signal closed posture. As stated before, leaning forward or showing the palms of the hands can signal open posture.

Interpersonal attitudes

Interpersonal attitudes are communicated through:

  • Inclination of the body. During conversation, a person may lean slightly toward another person or tilt slightly away from him/her. This behavior is usually unconscious. An inclination towards can be an expression of sympathy and acceptance. Inclining away can signal dislike, disapproval, or a desire to end the conversation. Different inclinations of the head may carry similar meanings.
  • Similarity. During the conversation, people have an unconscious tendency to imitate others’ behavior. This happens when the conversation runs seamlessly and is enjoyable for both parties. This approximation of attitudes, gestures, and body movements can indicate the emergence of a bond and sympathy and is known as stereotyped behavior as defined by Edwin Ray Guthrie. Lack of synchronous behavior may lead to a sense that the contact is artificial, forced, or unpleasant.
  • Orientation of the body. Usually people talk directed toward each other, but not squarely face to face, which can be indicative of a confrontational stance. In conversation, the participants’ bodies are usually turned toward each other at an angle. When a person ignores someone else, they tend to ignore or avoidPosture drawing contact by showing the other person their side or back.
  • Closed or Open posture.
An example of a nonchalant posture

Posture communicating social standing

Posture can signal an individual’s position in social hierarchy.

Mood influences muscle tone, energy level, and one’s internal sense of well-being. Thus, body posture can reveal a person’s current state of mind. Anger, sadness, and disgust are by far the most recognized body postures that are indicative of emotions. Stress can affect posture subconsciously; a person under stress will often have a greater amount of muscle tension, and may also have shallow, clavicular breathing.

  • Well-being affects posture by giving it a sense of energy and balance. A person’s spine will be straight and the
  • head raised.
  • Malaise affects posture with a sense of tiredness. A person’s shoulders may droop, and the head may be bowed down or tilted to the left or right.
  • Confidence affects posture by the uprightness (or not) of one’s body

Popular literature has come to interpret postures according to the assumptions of psychoanalysis, thinking that actions such as cross arms over the breasts or crossing legs would be a symptom of a sexual complex. These beliefs, however, have very limited support in systematic research and experimentation. It is more likely that this type

Posture meaningof behavior reflects a certain style of self-presentation, rather than unconscious conflicts and complexes.


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