Thursday, July 16, 2009

Body language weird-out

I almost passed by this piece in the Globe & Mail as yet another example of somebody using 'linguistics' for 'language', and to mean just 'words'. It's about the importance of body language in business.

But the guy being interviewed makes a clear, presumably testable claim:
The meaning is tending to come from the gesture, not necessarily from the linguistics. And if you see a difference between the gesture and the linguistics, you will tend to go with what the body was saying.
Anybody know of any evidence for this? I know that forensic linguists and others have invested a lot of effort in figuring out when people are lying, etc. Sounds like expensive snake oil being peddled to businesses to me.

If that's not got you reading the article yet, check out this exchange:

KM: So you are saying that, at times, body language actually trumps the words that I am actually saying.

MB: Oh, for sure; for sure it trumps it. The words, the linguistics, are the spaghetti sauce. The spaghetti is what is happening with the body.

Ironically, the Google news feed to your right also contained this piece from the Chicago Reader, about David McNeill, an actual psycholinguist working on gesture.

Does saying random stuff to business execs pays better than the scientific study of human behavior?

Image from here.


Janet S. said...

Thanks for the link to the Chicago Reader article about David McNeil. I took a class from him in the mid 80s, in which we read drafts of the textbook he was writing, based on these ideas. I'll have to go look up his current work, now that the web has enabled his 1991 vision of "elaborate computer 'windows' in which the reader can observe gestures and speech while pondering the printed commentary on them."

Mr. Verb said...

Happily done. Yeah, I guess he's been ahead of the curve on some things!

It's also just hilarious that the Google news feed had both utter bunk and serious science on the feed about the same subject at the same time.

The Ridger, FCD said...

I've heard that a lot, though I don't know how viable it is. That stupid show "Lie to Me" was based on that notion. I guess the theory is that you can control your words but not your "involuntary" body motions...