First of all, Professor, what motivated you to become one of the world’s authorities in body language?
I started noticing nonverbal “body language” in high school. It was as if gestures, facial expressions, hair styles, shoes, and clothing were “speaking” to me apart from words. In college, I learned that what I was seeing were nonverbal signs, signals, and cues. I began to study the meaning of these, and what and how they communicate to our brain and nervous system. Sixty years later, I’m still studying, and the findings are in my published books and online Nonverbal Dictionary .
Who were the ones among friends and family who motivated you to reach this eminent position?
My maternal grandmother always encouraged me to study the world and its contents. I took her advice and indulged my curiosity.
How much of human communication is nonverbal?
A lot. Several percentages have been offered, but none are accurate. Written communication on the Internet is very verbal. Emotional communication face-to-face is more than 90 percent nonverbal.
What can parents do to send out positive signals in terms of body language to their offspring in order to contribute to better parenting?
Parents may use smart phones to video their interactions with children. Doing so enables parents to see themselves as children see them. Negative emotional cues may be replaced with positive ones for better rapport. Voice tones are particularly important, as they carry a great deal of unconscious emotion via sound.
Illustrative Photo / Shutterstock
You have done some work watching men and women who are out to pick up each other at bars. Could you please tell us about this in some detail?
Human courtship is all about nonverbal communication and body language. Yes, we do manage to talk a lot, but the most important signals are sent and received apart from words. My first book, Love Signals, was about the international body language of love. A Google Preview of Love Signals is just a click away.
Have you encountered any funny situations when men and women want to date each other?
Yes, the best, most sincere courtships always involve humor. There’s a lot of joking and laughter. There is also a constant shrugging of the shoulders, one of my favorite nonverbal signs.
Illustrative Photo / Shutterstock
Are children more open in their body language compared with adults? Are grownups more defensive?
Yes, children are uninhibited and easily show emotion via their unrestrained body language. Adults often become reserved and guarded as they get older, sometimes to the point of being unreadable.
Could you tell us about the zygomatic smile and how two different parts of the brain process smiles?
Yes, the “true” or zygomatic smile almost always comes with a crinkle at the outside corners of the eyes. The deliberately posed “camera” smile, on the other hand, often omits the eyes entirely. The former smile expresses true emotion, being felt in the brain’s emotional limbic system. The deliberate smile has less feeling, and is processed upstairs in the brain’s more rational cerebral neocortex.
What is the Adam’s apple jump?
The Adam’s apple jump is a conspicuous up-and-down motion of the Adam's apple. It is a movement of the throat visible while gulping or swallowing, as in nervousness. The Adam's-apple-jump is an unconscious sign of emotional anxiety, embarrassment, or stress.
Apart from the guilty ones, can the Adam’s apple jump happen with those who are merely self-conscious? And what about similar situations with women?
Yes, when feeling a bit shy, a young woman or man may unconsciously emit this nonverbal cue.
Tell us, Professor, do you involuntarily read body language signals while communicating with family and friends?
Yes, especially when I see something I’ve not seen or heard (or smelled, as in a new perfume) before.
Does it make them uncomfortable?
Yes, I often need to reassure people that I’m not reading them. And I’ve learned never, ever to call attention to any specific body parts, movements, or gestures. It’s too personal to talk about them and bring them into conscious awareness . . .
Professor David B. Givens began studying “body language” for his Ph.D. in anthropology at the University of Washington in Seattle. He served as Anthropologist in Residence at the American Anthropological Association in Washington, D.C. from 1985-97, and is currently Director of the Center for Nonverbal Studies in Spokane, Washington.