The Body Seeking Comfort

Nonverbal World - All about Nonverbal Communication: The Body Seeking Comfort

When we read bodies for their underlying meaning [...]
First of all, one does not "read" bodies. Bodies are not books. Secondly, bodies don't have underlying meaning. Under bodies usually lies the ground, the floor, some furniture for seating, perhaps... But not meaning. One can interpret bodily appearance or behaviour as meaningful, sure, but one does not read the underlying meanings of bodies, at least no more than builders write buildings or birds swim the in sky.
[...] it’s important to understand that the body is controlled by emotion and that the inner workings of our minds are constantly juggling many factors all of which seek to create comfort.
Hmm. I thought I was controlling my body. It sure seems like my fingers here typing on the keyboard are not controlled by emotion but by conscious volition. And are you really saying that all the mind does is seek to create comfort? What kind of hyper cognitive dissonance theory is this? Surely the inner working of our minds have greater concerns than that of comfort, lest we all throw down pillows and blankets and snuggle between them for ever.
One might also say that bodies seek to escape or eliminate discomfort, but if a body runs from discomfort, it is the same as running toward comfort. Thus, seeking comfort is the primary motivation behind body language. Let me explain.
Yes, you do need to explain this one, because the fact that comfort and discomfort are opposites does nothing to suggest that it is the primary motivation behind body language. Is there a primary motivation behind body language, though? The term itself, "body language" was to my knowledge coined by Julies Fast (around 1970ish) who probably got it from Israel Latif's 1934 paper about child development where he said that the baby's crawling toward the milk bottle can be thought of as "full-body language" - you see, Latif relied on 19th century literature (like Herbert Spencer) wherein language and communication were kind of synonymous. But even in his example, is the child crawling towards the milk bottle (with his or her whole body, mind you!) motivated by comfort? Is all motivation, for that fact, about comfort?
The mind is a complex organ but it is runs over very simple principles.
Really? I thought the brain was a complex organ and mind is the manifestation of consciousness, e.g. something that the brain does. If it runs on very simple principles, why are cognitive theorists spending so much effort on theorizing new memory systems and neuropsychologists on discovering types of receptor cells? Someone should let them know that it actually runs over very simple principles!
It is primarily motivated by fear. The mind seems to be complex and creatively driven, but it is in fact primitive in its design.
Our minds are primarily motivated by fear? Yeah, ok, go ahead and inform the cognitive theorists and neuropsychologists of that. Sure.
While it is true that we are capable of higher-order thinking, emotions are still a large driver in our behavior and decision-making process, and these are rooted in our deep reptilian base.
Ah, I see! Our higher-order thinking and decision-making processes are conducted in undersea reptilian bases in Middle East and China, where a galactic governance council composed of select star system representatives that carry out governance and development functions in selected areas of our populated and organized galaxy and universe. Either that or you are subscribing to the Triune brain model of the evolution of the vertebrate forebrain - a hypothesis "not espoused by many comparative neuroscientists". I like outdated science as much as the next guy, but come on. You're simplifying an already dubious proposition.
When you think of the human mind, think of it like a piece of clay.
Dno, I like to think of the brain as a big bundle of nerve cells.
At its base is the primitive reptilian clump - the brain stem. The reptilian brain produces visceral bodily responses such as heart rate, blood pressure, circulation, respiration, digestion, and reproduction.
As little as I have read serious secondary sources on Paul MacLean (the guy you are quoting without citation?), I know that his approach was not as straightforward as you make it out to seem. For one, he said that the hippocampal system is too crude for language but "might have the capacity to participate in a non-verbal type of symbolism" (1949: 348 - yes, that's how old this shoddy theory is!). That is to say, interpretation of nonverbal data is actually dispersed throughout the brain. He did say some neat stuff like: "Feelings and emotions provide us with the connecting bridge between our internal and external world." (1958: 619). And he did have a neat metaphor that you guys haven't usurped, something like comparing the archicortex to a radar screen and the neocortex to a television screen. But whatever, your simplification may do the trick for convincing yourself of this outdated hypothesis.
Over evolution, different pieces of clay have been scabbed over top - the neocortex ('neo' means new). The reptilian produces nonverbal body language [...]
So, as opposed to nonverbal body language, is there also verbal body langugae? It's kind of like asking as Thomas Sebeok (a man who did more for the study of nonverbal communication than you can possibly imagine, but probably haven't heard about) did: a "body language" as opposed to what? A "mind language"? hahahahahaha
[...] that is deemed more truthful than that generated by the neocortex which is capable of producing conscious movements.
Come on, you know about the neocortex but you haven't heard of the motor cortex?
While part of the brain can work consciously, it is the clay at the bottom, the root clump, the reptilian brain that interferes with the mind’s ability to work free of emotion.
I don't even know what you're saying here. It's like you've reduced emotions to one part of the brain without any consideration of actual brain function, neurochemicals, etc.
The origins of our more intense motivations are driven by our primitive emotions. While we like to imagine humans as being much more sophisticated than our animal counterpart, we still largely act based on gut instincts.
How do you measure the intensity of motivations? Which emotions are primitive? Am I writing these criticisms out of gut instinct?
Have you ever wondered what drives people to make certain decisions in their daily lives?
Nope. I kind of presume that they have their own reasons anh stuff.
Do you assume that they are trying to maximize their fitness and well-being, that they are perfectly rational?
Nope. I'm quite aware that the rational action theory is just another theory. A bad one at that.
You shouldn’t. While people are capable of rational thinking, they often make poor decisions overall. While some of the blame might fall on the lack of knowledge - imperfect assumptions and information, a large part of it is due to emotional underpinnings.
But what about habits, values, norms, power, status, pressure; social-, cultural- and psychological contexts, norms, etc. etc. Are you really saying that between rational thinking and emotions there's nothing? That's like... reductionistic, man. Reductionism is bad, m'kay. Don't reduce a world of variables to two extremes, m'kay.
When we talk investments, greed and fear are primary motivators. They often lead the investor astray.
I have no idea what any of this has to do with "body language".
In body language, the primary emotional motivator is comfort.
Oh, okay. But... umm... is comfort an emotion? I know it's sometimes difficult to make out whether the term "feeling" signifies sensation or emotion, but emotion itself is pretty straightforward, isn't it? It isn't, well... comfort. Comfort is a sensation, not an emotion. In much the same vain, relaxation and tension are not emotions but sensations.
When the body curls up into a fetal position by pulling the arms and legs together, the body language reader might correctly read discomfort, but the root cause within a person is sought comfort.
Usually when people curl up into a fetal position in public it's more about making a statement of some kind or other.
The body balls up to remind itself of being protect by Mom during infancy and within the womb.
Did the body tell you all of this when you were performing a psychoanalytic session with it?
It just feels comfortable to huddle up into a ball. When the negative emotion passes, the body will find comfort sprawled out on a couch.
Have you thought that maybe if feels comfortable because it's self-stimulation and you're releasing endorphins? Why jump to a psychoanalytic interpretation and bestow upon the bodies of all people a repressed memory of I-don't-even-know-what? I'd just ochkam it.
On the other hand, the smug lawyer feels comfortable sprawled out all the time.
Have you conducted a test with a sample group of smug lawyers and a test-group of non-smug laywers? How did you come to such an odd conclusion?
He puts his arms over the chair next to him, gesticulates in conversation, juts his chin out and acts boisterous. His confidence (or is it cockiness) is displayed by his level of comfort.
Oh wow that hypothetical smug lawyer sure is a douche. Gesticulates in conversation? That smug sonovabitch!
We remind ourselves of the comforts we received throughout our childhood in many ways. We pet and stroke the back of our head, we hug ourselves with our arms, we cross and hide behind objects to block ourselves from overexposure. These remind us of comforts provided by Mom and Dad where they would hug us tightly, stroke the back of our head and provide us a secure place to hide - tucked in between their legs with only our heads poking out!
Naive me thought we did that because the back of our head and other spots on the body are physiologically sensitive and pleasurable to the touch. But yeah, some psychoanalytical mumbo-jumbo is surely the correct way to think about it. I just stroked my chin and this reminded me of the way Oedipus stroked my chin when I went backpacking in Ancient Thebes.
Comfortable people will hold their bodies loose rather than rigid, and their body will move with fluidity. They will gesture with their speech instead of freezing instantly or awkwardly, called “flash frozen.”
As opposed to the uncomfortable people? (reductionism much?) These sound like warring nations of the comfort-land. "Flash frozen" reminds me of Edward Hall's discussion of Martin Joos's "frozen style", but again I'm left to feel as if you're just nit-picking mid-twentieth century theories without citations.
Comfortable people mirror others around them instead of avoiding synchrony. Their breath rate will be similar and they will adopt like-postures instead of showing differences.
Nah, I'm pretty sure mirroring, imitation, mimicry, isopraxism, synchrony, simultaneity, similarity, the chameleon effect, echopraxis, congruence, convergence, conversational coupling, etc. etc. does not depend on comfort.
Bodies show discomfort by increased heart rate, breath rate, sweating, a change in normal color in the face or neck, trembling or shaking in the hands lips, or elsewhere, compressing the lips, fidgeting, drumming the fingers and other repetitive behaviors. Voices often crack when under stress, mouths might dry up producing noticeable swallowing, “hard swallows”, or frequent throat clearing.
So discomfort is pretty much synonymous with an adrenaline rush?
Discomfort is shown by using objects as barriers. A person may hold drinking glasses to hide parts of their face or use walls and chairs while standing to lean against for support.
This is the part about Allan Pease I dislike the most, because he didn't even credit Erving Goffman for this insight. Even at that it's dubious, as Goffman's data came from literary fiction.
A person suffering discomfort might engage in eye blocking behaviors by covering their eyes with their hands or seem to talk through them or even squint so as to impede what is being said from entering their minds. The eyes might also begin to flutter or increase in overall blink rate showing an internal struggle.
Very obvious Pease-ism. Just remember the monkey picture from his book. This obviously has no relation to reality but whatever - you seem pretty okay with perpetuating stuff that has no basis whatsoever in reality.
Many people have wrongfully discounted the hidden meanings behind body language. They say, I’m not hugging myself tightly because I’m scared or timid, I just feel more comfortable that way. However, as an expert in reading people, ask yourself why balling the self up feels so comfortable.
Another Pease-ism but I'm glad you finished with this one because now I can tell you about Pease-ism on the basis of this example. As you know full-well from Allan Pease's Body Language: How to read others'..., Pease says that
The standard arm-cross gesture is a universal gesture signifying the same defensive or negative attitude almost everywhere. [...] Many people claim that they are not defensive but cross their arms or legs because they feel cold. (Allan Pease)
Now, first of all, there is no such thing as "universal gesture" - the term is an oxymoron. More importantly, though, the cold bit. In thesame year Allan Pease first published his Body Language (1981), an art scholar named Henry Maguire published his study titled Art and Eloquence in Byzantium. In it, Maguire made a point about representing people with arms folded across the chest in Byzantine mosaics:
Arms forded across the chest could mean that the figure was silent or, as in images of the forty martyrs of Sebaste, that the figure was freezing to death. (quoted in Brubaker 2009: 55)
The similarity is astounding, isn't it? On the one hand we have silence and on the other hand some pseudo-psychoanalytic mumbo-jumbo about defence; and then on the one hand freezing to death and on the other, feeling cold. Now, which could it be: did the art historian draw on Pease and his nonacademic text? Or did Pease stumble upon Maguire and without a blink arrive at the conclusion that this must be universal!? In any case, you can test it on your own: next time you see someone with hands folded across their chest, ask yourself whether they are defensive/uncomfortable, or are they merely silent and listening to other people talk? Or, you could just trust actual psychologists who say:
But be careful to not overinterpret arm crossing, especially in chairs with no armrests. In these situations the frequency of arm crossing may increase as a way of resting the arms. (Matsumoto & Hwang 2013b: 92; note 1)
So, yeah, comfort (as in "a state of physical ease and freedom from pain or constraint") but not the pseudo-psychoanalytic comfort (as in "consolation for grief or anxiety") you are talking about.
When analyzing people, make sure you read them through the principle of seeking comfort. Comfort and discomfort are powerful forces in the emotional lives of people especially in nonverbal communication.
I think I shall not.

Dear Chris Phillip. I've flipped through The Body Language Project back in 2010 when I was just beginning to get into nonverbal communication. Having now met your writings again, I can say with full confidence that you can sure do good upskirt pictures of pretty girls... But you don't seem to have done your homework. But then again, not everyone is in it for the science. In the end I'm bitter only because you perpetuate Pease-isms. That's pretty much it.


Sachchidanand Swami said...

Really thanks for considering my website (and this article) for this kind of hilarious analysis!

Christopher Philip said...

Thanks for clarifying your stance. Enlightening. Do you dispute the claim that body language/nonverbal communication has widespread predictive value?

Yes, body language is not a hard science. I speak from a Zoological background. I appreciate body language as a form of art that has roots in the sciences, as is the study of all behaviour. Difficult to quantify, therefore difficult to study. However, it does allow a person to make accurate predictions about a person that has universal (but if you won't permit, cultural) contexts. To me, that makes it a scientific pursuit. We may split hair on this matter, ultimately, however, what I'm after is the 'use' I can take from body language and not it's ultimate definition of science versus non-science.

If you care to outline your position on nonverbal communication, I will provide my website to you as a forum to outline your position. I will provide the nonverbal community to you via my "articles" section and I will happily embrace discourse. Therefore, if you care, I will publish your thoughts on the matter.

My website is evolving as more than a dating niche into more broad uses such as business and general use.

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