Summer is good for Love. It is a well-known fact.
Established couples renew their feelings thanks to the free time, relaxation and small vices they can indulge in during the holiday period.
Those who are single and looking for their soul mate can instead show off their skills in the art of courtship.
But what are the non-verbal indicators – serious and objective – that reveal to us the real interest of the other person, and which ones should put us on the alert?
“Biting one’s lips”, “stroking one’s hair”, “showing one’s wrists” or “toned muscles”, or “crossing one’s legs in the direction of the other when sitting down”… manuals on non-verbal communication and the internet are often full of generalised but scientifically unverified hoaxes that tend to reduce the complex world of emotions and behaviour to simple “if he/she makes this gesture… then he/she likes you” inferences.
When it comes to emotions and feelings, it is often impossible to deduce from a single gesture, a posture, or a single approach of the interlocutor (proxemics), a sure good predisposition to us and our courtship, that is, a ‘pass’ that indicates we should continue in what we are doing because it pleases the other person.
Let’s try to examine what is true and what we should consider less reliable in the ‘body language’ world associated with the courtship phases.
Today, in this first part of the article, we will discuss the postures and styles of physical contact. Here we reveal the main truths and false myths related to the ‘non-verbal language of love’.
Posture is defined as the overall position of the body and limbs (in relation to each other and their orientation in space) to be maintained against the force of gravity, during coordinated movements or stations (standing, sitting, etc.) that form the basis of the body’s dynamic or static balance.
Posture can also be defined as: “…the bodily attitude, the position that the body assumes as an immediate form of adaptation to the environment, and which is expressed by the tension or relaxation of the muscles.” (R. Anchisi, 1995).
There are approximately 1500 postures, sitting, standing or lying down, that human beings can assume. Some can be maintained for a long time, others are short (micro-reactions).
Body posture – not only in humans, but also in animals – is the first element that conveys information about attitude towards others. From the point of view of emotions, body posture expresses obvious general conditions: aggression, benevolence, tension, relaxation.
The characteristics of some basic postures were researched by James (1932):
– Posture arched forward: to manifest attention and interest.
– Posture with backward or laterally shifted torso: withdrawal or avoidance, posture of rejection.
– Body expansion postures (e.g. inflating the chest): body is perceived as larger and ‘threatening’ to manifest dominance, aggression.
– “Cascading” posture (asymmetrical posture of arms and legs, with loose hands and body tilted, head bowed, chest hollowed out): postures of relaxation.
Research is still ongoing, but the study of postures (especially reactive postural modifications) is often correlated with the manifestation of universal emotions (see: ESaC – Emotional Skills and Competencies), and therefore reliable when evaluated and compared with what emerges from the other 5 channels of communication.
The alter-adaptors, according to Paul Ekman, are hetero-directed manipulative movements on other people that individuals perform in the course of interaction (exchanging objects or physical contact with another person; adjusting the other’s clothing in courtship, as a form of contact; etc.).
Evolutionarily, they derive from the allo-grooming activities that our hominid ancestors performed, and that are still found in anthropomorphic primates (very important social adaptive function: apes ‘groom’ each other both to clean their fur and to maintain social proximity and cohesion with other group members).
These direct gestures towards the interlocutor originate from the first interpersonal contacts with the caregiver during childhood and include:
– Relevant movements to attack or protect oneself from attacks (hitting and parrying the other’s blows).
– Movements required for “establishing affection and intimacy” (hugging, caressing, kissing), or instead of “withdrawing and fleeing” (pushing the other away).
– Movements related to establishing sexual contact (invitations, flirting and courtship, or contact directly related to sexual intercourse).
These manipulators are not necessarily displayed in full or in their entirety when they occur during a conversation between adults, although they may be displayed in their entirety in more secluded and less publicly exposed settings, or in more stressful or intimate conversations.
Those who are single and looking for these gestures in each other need to carefully consider this crucial aspect: behavioural habits and extroversion/introversion traits that differ from person to person greatly impact in the evaluation of these gestures, since, as with proxemics, people who are unaccustomed to touching or being touched in normal social interactions may emit or tolerate them less frequently than extroverted people who are used to using them to create empathy and rapport with the other (think of those in commercial work, or those in the family who have always been used to this).
In addition, those who manifest them more frequently out of habit, may not necessarily want to show willingness to court or be courted, as they behave in line with their own behavioural style.
Those who out of shyness come into little contact with others may be in a transitional phase in which they are learning how to be more relational, and their awkward attempts may be the result of their wanting to put themselves out there in order to increase their self-efficacy in social relationships.
Everything and the opposite of everything, then. We cannot deduce anything from these individual gestures, but we must evaluate the other’s five channels of communication when making them.
END CHAPTER 1