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Why is learning body language useful? originally appeared on Quora: the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by Dr. Abbie Maroño, Studied Human Behavior Analysis, on Quora:

Understanding how to read nonverbal cues, including body language, is the answer to one of the most fundamental problems our species face, understanding and predicting the behaviors of others.

There is ample evidence that an individual’s spontaneous body language is a rich source of information about their mental state, more specifically their emotions and intentions. As such, understanding how to recognize and decode nonverbal cues plays a crucial role in forming social judgements, predicting the behaviors of others, and responding with appropriate behaviors. In fact, nonverbal communication plays such a crucial role in human interactions that we have evolved the ability to form sophisticated social judgements based on basic behavioral signals. This process is automatic and highly efficient, typically proceeding more effortful and explicit processes. So, we do most of our nonverbal decoding unconsciously.

However, as I said, this process precedes more effortful processes, meaning that we form automatic judgments, but not necessarily accurate ones. When we understand the science behind what specific behavioral cues and movements signify, we can utilize this knowledge to make more accurate judgements. What’s more, not only are you responding to the behavioral signals of others, but you are also sending messages about your emotions and intentions through your body language. Indeed, whether you like it or not, your body language is always communicating information about you to others, and it is up to you to align your nonverbal impression with your personal and professional goals.

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Unsurprisingly, the academic literature is flourishing with empirical studies demonstrating that adjusting our body language, based on the cues of our interaction partner, has substantial social benefit. But the reverse is also true, failing to adjust our body language will lead to undesirable social consequences. For example, consider the context of a first date, imagine that person one is attempting to form an intimate relationship with person two, but person two is highly uncomfortable with the advances, but does not communicate this verbally. If person one is unable to recognize that their interaction partner is displaying nonverbal cues of discomfort or disinterest, it is likely to result in negative social consequences and possibly total relationship breakdown.

Consider now a different example, where failing to study foreign cultural customs and differences in body language had internationally embarrassing consequences. During a visit to Australia, President George H.W. Bush intended to gesture the V-for-victory sign to a group of peace protestors. However, although the chosen gesture signals ‘victory’ in America, in Australia this is an offensive and rude gesture, equivalent to extending the middle finger in America. As such, I think it goes without saying, that learning cultural norms in body language is certainly useful when traveling internationally and might just help you avoid unfortunate incidents such as this.

Evidently, learning how to understand the body language of others and being aware of our own will help facilitate more positive and successful interactions, in both our personal and professional relationships.

This question originally appeared on Quora – the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

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