Researchers at the University of Portsmouth have found a link between body movement and aggression. A small study, 29 people, were fitted with devices to track their movement while walking normally on a treadmill. They postulated that those who had the most exaggerated walk were more likely to be aggressive. Both men and women were fitted with the motion trackers.
Later they had the participants self-report on a personality test. Based on the answers, the researchers made judgements about how aggressive the participants were. They then correlated that information with the motion tracking and found a close fit.
While many of us knew intuitively that swagger and aggression or overconfidence go hand in hand, this was a first in attempting to scientifically find a link.
The 1977 movie, Saturday Night Fever, is a great illustration of this link where the young John Travolta playing the part of Tony Manero opens the film with Stayin’ Alive – “you can tell by the way I use my walk….”
This research is not frivolous. It may be the start of more detailed work to identify personality traits by observation. As the world’s cities become ever more surveilled, people might become suspects based on their gait.
There is a whole industry in book publishing and counsellors helping people understand and sometimes overcoming their and other’s unconscious body movements. For instance, gamblers may give away information with small unconscious movements called tells. Smiling, hand gestures, eye contact or lack of it all give another person non-verbal information.
Of course the flip side of reading unconscious body movements is the knowledge of how to overcome them and give a different impression to watchers.
University of Portsmouth
Journal of Non Verbal Behavior
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