Most of our communication is through what is known as body language, the facial and bodily movements that – consciously and unconsciously – express our thoughts and feelings. Understanding this language can help you understand the rules of attraction!
The spoken word makes up only seven per cent of our communication with other people.
Just as the meaning of a single, isolated word is limited, an independent gesture or movement may reveal relatively little. However, combinations of words form sentences and combinations of movements may be even more expressive.
‘There’s language in her eye, her cheek, her lip,
Nay, her foot speaks; her wanton spirits look out
At every joint and motive of her body’
– Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida
The eyes have it
In surveys on notions of attractiveness, time and time again people mention the eyes as the most important facial feature, and often as the most important attribute of the whole person. This is more than part of a merely physical assessment. Our eyes are frequently more eloquent than our voices, and can reveal more than we intend or realise.
Even the appearance of the eyes can betray sexual interest, since when a person is attracted to another the eyes tend to widen and the pupils dilate. With sexual arousal the pupils remain enlarged but the eyes may narrow and become less focused.
‘The eyes are the windows to the soul’
– John Bunyan
Generally speaking, people look at each other for no more than two thirds of the time while talking, their eyes meeting for barely a second at a time. However, people who like each other maintain more eye contact, and if they are attracted to each other, eye contact is greater still. Games may be played, as two people try to catch each other’s unguarded gaze. Men tend to look for longer and more openly, while women tend to look away then back at a person in whom they are interested.
When a person looks away to break their gaze, the direction to which they turn can also be significant. For example, looking downwards indicates strong inner emotion; looking upwards suggests an active imagination; looking sideways can imply rehearsing or recalling words or thoughts.
Posture, gesture and attraction
We use posture and gesture to make ourselves more attractive, to emphasise our best points and to indicate our interest in someone. We may show interest in a specific person in a group by ‘pointing’ our body or even just one foot towards the person in whom we are most interested, whether sexually or just socially.
When one person is attracted to another, the subtlest sexual signals can come into play – and these include messages conveyed by posture and gesture. Open body movements combined with sensitivity to other people’s body language can be very attractive. Likewise, negative or “closed” gestures can be surprisingly powerful. Barriers can be created easily with a crossed leg, an arm, a lack of eye contact or the turn of the body.
Male courtship gestures
Men and women use body language – often unconsciously – to give off a whole range of signals. These are especially noticeable when they are attracted to someone.
A man will often ‘preen’ himself when he sees an attractive woman approaching. He may smooth and neaten his clothes, perhaps straighten his tie or run his fingers through his hair. He may also change his posture to emphasise the male sexual characteristics, straightening his back and putting his shoulders back to show off his height and the breadth of his shoulders and chest, or sticking out his chin to draw attention to a masculine jaw line. Many men will also stand with their hips forward, or with hands in pockets or belt hooks, all of which draw attention to the genitals. Equally, a self-conscious man will use his posture to play down these same attributes.
Female courtship gestures
There are specific uses of body language employed by men and women to attract or to demonstrate attraction to a prospective partner, sometimes in the most subtle and instinctive ways.
When a woman is attracted to someone, she will often ‘preen’ herself by adjusting her clothing or touching her hair. She may alter her posture or clothing to highlight her most attractive or most feminine points, such as shapely legs, curved hips, elegant hands or a slender waist. One hand resting on the hip can emphasise its shape, and crossing the legs can make them be noticed. A woman may stand with her shoulders back to draw attention to her breasts, although this may alternatively be an assertive gesture.
Echoing, in gesture and posture, is one of the most remarkable forms of unconscious communication. Research has shown that we tend to copy the body language of people that we like. The closer the relationship the more evident this behaviour becomes, as emotional and psychological understanding and trust develop. A conscious form of this echoing, subtly following a person’s posture or gestures, can also be used to establish some kind of rapport with an otherwise distant or unfriendly person.
While this kind of echoing is generally quite unconscious, in an intimate relationship it can extend to bodily processes over which we have no control at all. It is quite common for lovers to develop synchrony in heartbeat, breathing rate, body temperature and even blood pressure.