Subtle body expressions reveal the true emotions of other people. You can often tell more about how someone is feeling by the way they act, rather than what they say. As John Napier said, “If language was given to men to conceal their thoughts, then gesture’s purpose was to disclose them.”

To help you recognize other people’s emotions, we’ve compiled a list of the six most revealing body expressions that can distinguish how people feel.


A microexpression is a fleeting, involuntary facial expression that reveals one’s true emotions. They occur as fast as 1/15 to 1/25 of a second, and unlike regular, longer, facial expressions, it is difficult to fake a microexpression. A common and useful microexpression to look out for is anger.

Key indicators are: The brows are lowered and drawn in towards each other, causing vertical lines between the brows. The lips are pressed firmly together and the nostrils are slightly dilated.

Eye contact

Eyes are often described as the “window to the soul,” and with good reason. Our eyes are some of the most revealing indicators of our mood and intentions. You can tell whether or not somebody is physically aroused by how much their pupils are dilated.

So, when you’re on a date and trying to assess how well it’s going – check the size of your date’s pupils. If you’re trying to see if someone is angry with you, then again, refer to the size of their pupils. When people are irritated, their pupils reduce in size.


Much attention is paid to handshakes in politics because it reveals a lot about power and dominance. In a business setting, if someone cradles your hand with both of theirs during a handshake, it suggests they are asserting their authority.

However, amongst friends, the meaning shifts. The two-handed shake then becomes more about warmth and informality.

Your Feet

Because we tend not to think about our feet, they can be one of the most reliable indicators of how a person feels. Moving feet often reflect a state of anxiety.

In its most extreme form, it can be seen as the brain’s way of trying to run away from a situation without physically leaving. Unsurprisingly, static feet mirrors a feeling of peace and being at ease with a situation. So if you want to appear that you have control of a situation, make sure to keep your feet still.


The way a person holds themselves can be a very telling of how they feel. Someone who stands with their legs apart shows that they are happy in the space they are in, and comfortable in their self.

On the other end of the spectrum, someone who has their legs close together or crossed indicates that they don’t want to take up space because they are not comfortable in the situation.

Gender does impact this, as women have been socialized to keep their legs crossed when sitting. So a woman may feel very at ease in a situation and still have her legs crossed.


How close or far a person is to you can say a lot about how they feel. If someone is leaning in towards you, it shows they are actively listening and engaged in what you are saying. If they lean away, it signals that they are disinterested or hostile to the situation.

With these body expressions in mind, it’s possible to improve how you read a person or situation. Listening to what they say is still important, but try observing their movements as well. It will positively impact the way you conduct yourself, and how you connect with others.

Do you have other body expressions to add to this list? Share your thoughts in the comments below!


  1. Psychology Today
  2. Princeton University

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