Friends of the Nonverbal Communication Club, this week we present the paper “Sitting in judgment: How Body Posture Influences Deception Detection and Gazing Behavior”, by Zloteanu, M.; Krumhuber, E. G. and Richardson, D. C. (2021), in which authors study whether changing our body posture affects to people’s ability of perceiving and read other one’s behavior.

A very popular field of study within nonverbal communication is deception detection.

Reality is, that even though we think we are good at it, we are pretty clumsy. Our percentage of correct answers in deception detection is only slightly better than predicted by chance. Moreover, we tend to assume most statements people make are honest.

Prior research have demonstrated that changes in posture appear to have systematic and causal effects on how we see the world and how we see ourselves. An example of this would be the “power-posing”, which is worldwide known thanks to some recent studies.

Thus, if there are studies that confirm that maintaining a specific posture can make us feel more self-confident and powerful, is the posture also able of making us better or worse deception detectors?

This is the question that authors want to make clear, and the reason why they think this study is so important.

Postures can transmit lots of information in nonverbal communication, for instance, they can reflect friendliness or unfriendliness. They affect how we are perceived, how we perceive others and how we interpret information. Even effects on cognition and memory have been found in some investigations.

Authors wonder which are the differences that would appear in our deception detection capacity whether if we adopt an open posture or a closed posture when we observe the objective we have to analyze.

But what is an open posture and what is a closed posture?

Traditionally, an open posture has individual sitting with their arms uncrossed and legs uncrossed, in a relaxed recline. Basically, they are expansive physical displays adopted by individuals when feeling relaxed and willing to engage social interaction.

On the other hand, a closed posture typically has individuals sitting with their arms and legs crossed, in a rigid position. It is adopted when feeling threatened, uncomfortable, and, to sum up, signaling a lack of desire to interact.

The hypothesis authors try to confirm with their studies is: if posture influences social acuity, “judges” (these would be the people that have to discover if the other is lying or not) adopting an open posture should attend more to nonverbal information and integrate it more optimally in their veracity judgements compared to the closed posture judges.

Will it happen as authors expect?

In order to answer this question, two studies were carried out. The first of them had the objective of knowing if adopting one or another type of posture affects deception detection judgements. The second one considers the effect of posture on gazing behavior.

Participants of both studies had to watch a total of 12 videos. In 6 of them, a person saying the truth appeared. The opposite happened with the other 6.

Individuals were trained in order to know what microexpressions are, and how to identify and link each one of the basic emotions with some typical microexpressions. Besides, they answered a questionnaire to test their levels of empathy, because as we know, empathy is a very important element if we want to infer emotions.

In the first study, it was found that adopting an open posture resulted in higher discriminability in deception detection, compared to adopting a closed posture. An effect that was more visible with higher levels of empathy.

In the second study, when people adopted open postures, it seems they focused less on the hands of the people. They actually payed less attention to the nonverbal behavior of senders than it was expected.

To explain this last information, authors say that, perhaps, if people adopt an open posture, they are primed to dedicate more resources to processing social information. In this way, posture may be affecting how the judges process information, and not their tendency to inspect their targets more thoroughly.

As is usually happens, there are some limitations in this study. For instance, the inability to measure emotion-specific recognition rates. On the other hand, gender biases were not studied either.

Authors recommend to other researchers that further investigations should correct these mistakes in order to obtain more accurate results. Besides, they point out the need of continuing studying this field of nonverbal behavior.

Because we all want to know when somebody is lying to us, right?


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