Young Girl Holding a Letter, circa 1665

In humans, posture can provide a significant amount of important information through nonverbal communication. Psychological studies have also demonstrated the effects of body posture on emotions. This research can be traced back to Charles Darwin's studies of emotion and movement in humans and animals.[1] Currently, many studies have shown that certain patterns of body movements are indicative of specific emotions.[2][3] Researchers studied sign language and found that even non-sign language users can determine emotions from only hand movements.[4] Another example is the fact that anger is characterized by forward whole body movement.[5] The theories that guide research in this field are the self-validation or perception theory and the embodied emotion theory.[5][6][7]

Common methods

Physical posture and emotion have been studied using two similar techniques. The first method involves the participant viewing videotaped actors performing certain actions and the second method involves having the participant sit in a certain posture and then self-reporting their emotions. In the first method, actors portray and record certain body movements. Participants must view the video and decipher the emotion they believe is being portrayed.[8] In the second method, participants are told to assume a certain body posture and then must complete a survey on their current affective state.[7] Other methods include using neuroscience techniques, such as fMRI's to determine how posture and emotions expressions can affect brain imaging.[9] Another method that is growing in use involves using dancers as 'actors' and having participants observe and determine the emotion the dancer is conveying.[10]

Communication expressed

In humans, one of the means of communication is the posture of the body, in addition to facial expressions, personal distances, gestures and body movements.[11] Posture conveys information about:


A portrait of Paul Cézanne exhibiting an example of closed posture.

Posture can signal both the enduring characteristics of a person (character, temperament, etc.), and his or her current emotions and attitudes. Therefore, posture can be considered in the context of a given situation, and independently of it.

Changing factors

Posture as information about the current state of a person's emotions and attitudes should be analyzed in the context of other messages, both verbal and nonverbal as well as that person's cultural and social norms.

Open and closed

An example of open posture.

An important element of closed or open posture of the body are the hands. Showing the palms of the hands can be a signal of open posture, especially if the hand is relaxed. Showing the back of the hand or clenching hands into fists may represent a closed posture. Hands clasped behind the back may also signal closed posture even though the front is exposed because it can give the impression of hiding something or resistance to closer contact.

Closed and open posture also apply when seated. Crossed legs and arms can signal closed posture. As stated before, leaning forward or showing the palms of the hands can signal open posture.

Interpersonal attitudes

Interpersonal attitudes are communicated through:

An example of a nonchalant posture

Posture communicating social standing

A man posing for camera

Posture can signal an individual's position in social hierarchy.

A comparison of two different postures. On the left is an example of a more energized attitude; on the right is an example of a depressed attitude.

Erect Posture and impact on mood and activity performance

In a 2018 study, published in the journal NeuroRegulation, Dr Erik Peper and team found that good posture significantly helped in securing better scores on mathematics test. It was reasoned that slouched posture shuts down people and hampers brain processing not allowing clear thinking. They concluded that erect posture helps people to perform under varying conditions of stress. It was noted that the improvement in performance might also be seen for people doing other activities such as musicians and athletes.[15]


Mood influences muscle tone, energy level, and one's internal sense of well-being. Thus, body posture can reveal a person's current state of mind. Anger, sadness, and disgust are by far the most recognized body postures that are indicative of emotions.[16]

Popular literature has come to interpret postures according to the assumptions of psychoanalysis, thinking that actions such as crossing arms over the breasts or crossing legs would be a symptom of a sexual complex.[17] These beliefs, however, have very limited support in systematic research and experimentation. It is more likely that this type of behavior reflects a certain style of self-presentation,[18] rather than unconscious conflicts and complexes.

Stable factors

The term posture is also used to refer to the appearance of the body. In psychology, there are several concepts involving the appearance of the permanent characteristics of individuals. Some habitual positions may also reflect stable characteristics of an individual.


Muscular anatomy of a male human.

Wilhelm Reich, a student of Freud, first drew attention to the relationship between shallow breathing, blocked traffic, the difficulty in experiencing sexual pleasure, and emotional disorders, especially neuroses. This concept was developed by Alexander Lowen, founder of bioenergetics. He is also author of the concept of muscular block. Lowen noted that when people do not want to experience certain emotions, they tighten certain muscles.[19] For example, when someone does not want to cry, they can tighten the jaws, which suppresses tears. Stress and anger tighten the muscles along the spine and thighs, which can manifest itself in pain in those body parts, if the stress was prolonged. According to Lowen, some tensions become chronic: the muscular block always activated, regardless of the circumstances. This is called a chronic tension block. Muscular block affects posture and the way humans move. Certain experiences influence the formation of specific areas of muscle, and thus the body's appearance, structure, and attitude.[20]

Features of temperament

Constitutional theories in psychology (e.g., Sheldon, Kretschmer) emphasize the relationship between body structure and temperament. These theories have been around since Hippocrates thought that body structure goes hand in hand with the temperament and susceptibility to certain diseases. Scientific research on relationship of body appearance and temperament traits was begun in the early twentieth century by German psychiatrist Ernst Kretschmer. He studied the relationship between body structure and the onset of psychosis. Presented here in brief is the theory of Phyllis Whitman, William Sheldon, and Ghas Katz.[21] These researchers distinguished between different constitutional variations or physical nature of one's body, psychotic behavior reactions and temperament. The three constitutional variations are endomorphy, mesomorphy, and ectomorphy. The three corresponding psychotic behavior reactions are affective, heboid, and paranoid.

Some researchers have argued that Sheldon's findings of a strong relationship between body structure and the type of temperament are due to methodological shortcomings within his studies, and that the relationship between the two is actually lower than he claims.[22]

Other factors

Posture can easily be impacted by poor health and other factors. Thus, anyone using posture to assess personality, character, or psychology must first rule out possible underlying medical conditions which may be affecting a person's posture. Moreover, there is data claiming that one maintains their posture worse if they listens to the sentences which describe actions of others. For example, if your task is to maintain your posture rigorously in a state you do it worse when you listen to sentences like these: "I get up, put on my slippers, go to the bathroom".[23]

Posture is highly affected by muscle length and tension patterns, such as tight hamstring muscles or pectoral muscles, as well as muscle strength (for example, abdominal, glutei, and trapezius strength). The posture of dancers and athletes often improves when they train for their sports. Additionally, breathing patterns affect posture. For example, breathing through the mouth causes the chin to tilt forward in order to open the airway,[24] exacerbating forward head posture, whereas breathing through the nose allows the neck to stay in alignment.

Implications in other domains

As stated, the study of postures can give a vast amount of information about emotions and self-perceptions. The study of posture has also proven beneficial in other fields. Professional counselors, who were the participants, had to view recorded interactions of counselors and clients and determine the emotions of the client.[25] Researchers found that relying only on verbal communication to determine the emotions of the client resulted in an accuracy of only 66%. High levels of empathy could be misconstrued without the matching positive nonverbal communication. In similar studies it was noted that the arms and legs were the most important bodily factors in signaling low levels of empathy.[26] Further, researchers suggested that counselors should not only be trained in verbal communication but also in nonverbal communication.[25][26]

See also


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  2. ^ Dael, Nele; Mortillaro, Marcello; Scherer, Klaus R. (2011). "Emotion expression in body action and posture". Emotion. 12 (5): 1085–1101. doi:10.1037/a0025737. PMID 22059517. S2CID 16366687.
  3. ^ Montepare, Joann; Koff, Elissa; Zaitchik, Deborah; Albert, Marilyn (1999). "The Use of Body Movements and Gestures as Cues to Emotions in Younger and Older Adults". Journal of Nonverbal Behavior. 23 (2): 133–152. doi:10.1023/A:1021435526134. S2CID 142904808.
  4. ^ a b c Rossberg-Gempton, Irene; Gary Poole (1993). "The effect of open and closed posture on pleasant and unpleasant emotions". The Arts in Psychotherapy. 20: 75–82. doi:10.1016/0197-4556(93)90034-Y.
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  10. ^ Sawada, Misako; Kuzuhiro Suda; Ishii Motonobu (2003). "Expression of emotions in dance: relation between arm movement characteristics and emotion". Perceptual and Motor Skills. 97 (3 Pt 1): 697–708. doi:10.2466/pms.2003.97.3.697. PMID 14738329. S2CID 24709510.
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  13. ^ Ridley, Nancy L.; Frank R. Asbury (1988). "Does counselor body position make a difference". The School Counselor. 35 (4): 253–258.
  14. ^ Hergenhahn, Matthew H. Olson, B.R. (2009). An introduction to theories of learning (8th ed.). Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Pearson/Prentice Hall. ISBN 978-0-13-605772-7.((cite book)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  15. ^ Peper, Erik; Harvey, Richard; Mason, Lauren; Lin, I-Mei (2018). "Do Better in Math: How Your Body Posture May Change Stereotype Threat Response". NeuroRegulation. 5 (2): 67–74. doi:10.15540/nr.5.2.67.
  16. ^ Coulson, Mark (2004). "Attributing Emotion to Static Body Postures: Recognition Accuracy, Confusions, and Viewpoint Dependence". Journal of Nonverbal Behavior. 28 (2): 117–139. CiteSeerX doi:10.1023/ S2CID 55242997.
  17. ^ Collins, A. (2003). Gestures, body language and behavior. New York: DKC. ISBN 83-89314-01-0
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