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Body as Cue, Evidence, Persuasion


Techniques > Using Body Language > Body as cue, evidence, persuasion

Body as cue | Body as persuasion | Body as evidence | See also


Our bodies are intimately connected with how we feel and how we perceive ourselves.

Body as cue

Conditioning is a basic process whereby automatic feelings and actions are triggered by the presence of particular cues. We become conditioned as a sensory stimulus is repeatedly paired with a feeling, such as an angry parent with a slap, leading to any anger evoking the emotional fear and hurt.

As we grow used to being with other people, we subconsciously learn to read their body language particularly as it triggers emotions and memories that let us predict what will happen next. And we then automatically react before the event occurs, for example flinching at an angry voice. Positive cues happen too, such as when we feel good when others smile.

Intention cues are signs of a person's intent or desire. People not only look at where they want to be, they point parts of their body that way, for example when they want to leave a conversation, they start to turn away or look at their watch. Rising anger can also be spotted, with reddening face, lowering eyebrows, tensing muscles and so on.

Using it

Watch for correlations between a person's body position or movement and their attitude. When they have a negative attitude, get them to change position, for example getting them to sit if they are standing.

Body as evidence

When we are aroused, we look to our environment to find explanation. If you are held hostage with an attractive other person, you may conclude you are attracted to the person rather than being frightened of the situation.

In research, Briņol, Petty, and Wagner (2009) felt more confident when reading messages with their back straight and chest out than when they were slouched forward with back curved in a doubt posture.

Using it

In changing minds, you can help this by arousing the other person (for example by getting them to talk about something that makes them happy) and then presenting a cue (such as your product or idea).

You can also become more confident and powerful by adopting a confident and powerful posture.

Body as persuasion

Research has shown that body language easily acts to persuade others, such as where nodding increased a preference for a pen whilst a shaking head decreased preference for the pen (Tom et al. 1991).

Using it

We also persuade ourselves by the body language we are using. For example Strack, Martin, and Stepper (1988) found that subjects who were made to use smile muscles (pen between teeth)  enjoyed cartoons more than those who were prevented from smiling (pen between lips).

For persuasion, an implication of this is that if you can get a person to change their body they will also change their mind. A typical example is giving a person who is displaying closed body language something to hold or getting them to walk, thus forcing them to open their stance.

See also

Self-Perception Theory, Elaboration Likelihood Model, Conditioning


Briņol, P., Petty, R. E., & Wagner, B. (2009). Body postures effects on self-evaluation: A self-validation approach. European Journal of Social Psychology, 39, 1-12

Strack, F., Martin, L. & Stepper, S. (1988). Inhibiting and facilitating conditions of the human smile: A nonobtrusive test of the facial feedback hypothesis. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54, 768-777

Tom, G., Pettersen, P., Lau, T., Burton, T., & Cook, J. (1991). The role of overt head movement in the formation of affect. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 12, 281-289


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