If my conversational partner (in western europe) crosses his arms, while I am talking;

How can I determine if he is:

  • showing signs of rejection and/or detachment
  • or if he chose this position for another reason? (habit, reserved personality, low self-consciousness or just hiding a stain on his shirt...)

Are there clues that can help me to interpret his posture correctly?

  • $\begingroup$ Micro-expressions are not as simply as you would like. There are many reasons why someone might cross their arms many unrelated to the conversation you are attempting to hold with them. Fiction like Lie to Me exaggerate our understanding of microexpressions. $\endgroup$ – user3832 Nov 21 '13 at 3:48
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Just a suggestion. You should look for other indicators like the muscles around the eye, the mouth, posture like if the person is leaning in or away from you and even feet placement if seated. Some of this is dependent on culture so you should be aware of cultural markers and not get them mixed up. Interpreting body language or micro expressions is fairly complex. $\endgroup$ – asheeshr Nov 21 '13 at 16:34

Crossing arms may not necessarily mean detachment or rejection. However, more often than not, that's the usual implication. It can mean different things for different people and, furthermore, in different situations.

Some people cross arms to make themselves secure, perhaps when they are intellectually or physically overshadowed. Or maybe when they are pushed a little on the emotional front or on areas out of their comfort zone. In short, it may be their way of putting their guard up.

Others may conceive it as a deep and professional expression of taking interest in the conversation, often marked by the seriousness and context of the conversation. However on a contrasting ground, disinterest in the conversation is also a stimulus to crossing arms.

Crossing arms is also used as a sign to display prowess and as a challenge, in case the superiority of an individual is questioned.

Funnily enough, hiding the stain on the shirt seems a reasonable explanation too..:D

  • $\begingroup$ +1 for the stain on the shirt :-) sometimes explanations are simple, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. $\endgroup$ – user3578 Nov 27 '13 at 13:58
  • $\begingroup$ "More often than not, that's the usual implication," you say...Any empirical evidence for this? Consider also that one might be cold, or might even be trying to impress someone by channeling Mussolini! $\endgroup$ – Nick Stauner Jan 6 '14 at 9:22

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