The neuroscience of languages through the body: Body & Emotion

Wednesday, 07 de December de 2022

Mudar idioma: Inglês | Português


Body language is a very powerful tool. We had body language before we had speech, and apparently, 80 percent of what you understand in a conversation is read through the body, not the words.


- Deborah Bull


Is it possible for the human being to read emotions, feel them and unconsciously communicate information through the position and movement of the body in space?

According to neuroscience yes and goes beyond, your perception of your body and / or the other can influence the construction of your behavior and possible interpretations of information [1].

Emotional body language is the term used by neuroscience to discover what are the neurobiological bases of emotions & body communications. It consists of emotional expression throughout the body including specific movements in action. This field for neuroscience is recent and goes beyond studies of interpretation of facial communication. It is even known that facial communication is subjugated by body language (the face belongs to the body) although the pattern of neural activity is similar at the beginning of processing in ERP analyzes in EEG equipment [1].

Image extracted from reference [1]. ERP measuring the neural activation when seeing face or body with same response time.

Remember that all perception of your reality is in your brain, but this is reflected in the body in various ways. A conceptual study mapped representatively how the distribution of sensations in subjective contexts was given to some emotions:


Image extracted from reference [2]. Intensity of colors are how individuals perceive the state of the body in context of emotion and were informed by painting pixels in a software (the sensations as physiological representations could be vast for each individual such as: facial muscle activation, skin temperature , tearing and etc).


In the brain the decoding of the body interpretation is complex with participation of several areas, but among the most important is the amygdala, frontal orbital cortex and anterior cingulate (ACC) that can be visualized in the image below. It has already been identified that there are regions that only respond to body interpretation (excluding the face) [3] and some neurons that are specialized for it [4].

Image extracted from reference [5]. Illustrated brain regions.

First months in babies is an intense biological period for the brain with accelerated learning ability in the innate knowledge training. In 3-month-old infants they are still unable to recognize details and facial configurations while seeing, but the body does, becoming a more rooted knowledge in the subconscious for recognition and languages [6].


In the image below we see an experiment in which people visualize only the body in a position of fear or defense. These types of studies have shown that only the observation of the individual in a fear position triggers in the observer the activation of fear-related emotional areas also (even if not feeling it before) to maintain a possible alertness to the danger. This becomes very interesting because it tells us that only the bodily observation of others is capable of arousing emotions even if imperceptible or not spoken.

Image extracted from reference [1]. Pixels in yellow to orange demonstrate neural activation in an fMRI device.


The repercussion and extrapolation of this knowledge is powerful. We can speculate that body language affects the people around you, so if you convey leadership and trust, people who observe you will not only recognize this information through your body but feel it even if it is not in their life outside of the context that you are not present.


Be careful who surrounds you, emotion is cognitively contagious.


The explanation for this event is in a system of our brain called mirroring. There are neurons called mirror neurons that are involved in processes of empathy, imitation and reproduction. Mirroring is important in the human being for the construction of various emotions, social cognitive abilities based on the observation of the other and use of this stimulus as learning and perception of the world itself [1-7].


Little activity in the mirror neuron system is characteristic in people with autism and because of it they have difficulty understanding emotions through faces or body. Difficulties in body readings also indicate other mental disorders such as Schizophrenia and Huntington [1].


The ability of body communication is so important that studies have already begun to demonstrate that musical performances (emotional and musical) of the musicians are improved when accompanied by partners because they use the other as a reference in the action of the movement fortifying the synchronism and efficiency.


In the event of the Cognitive Society of Neuroscience (CNS) a study showed that the head posture influenced the perception of the personality and how it would give emotional expression [9].


So seeing or feeling yours and the other's body as well as movement are perceptions that should be given more attention. Whether on a daily basis or in project presentations, all the time you are affecting and being affected. All time your emotions emanate through the body. All time you act, tell a story ... your story ... through the motion,  the being, of position and the action.




[1] Towards the neurobiology of emotional body language; Beatrice de Gelder; Review;Nature; 2006.


[3] A cortical area selective for visual processing of the human body; Downing, P. E., Jiang, Y., Shuman, M. & Kanwisher, N.; Science; 2001.


[4] Premotor cortex and the recognition of motor actions;Rizzolatti, G., Fadiga, L., Gallese, V. & Fogassi, L.; Brain Res. Cogn. Brain Res.; 1996.


[5]The Neurobiology of Borderline Personality Disorder; Katherine S. Pier et al; Psychiatric Times; 2016.


[6] Structural Encoding of Body and Face in HumanInfants and Adults; Teodora Gliga1and Ghislaine Dehaene-Lambertz; Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience; MIT; 2005.


[7] From Neurons to Social Beings: Short Review of the Mirror Neuron System Research and Its Socio-Psychological and Psychiatric Implications; Hyeonjin Jeon and Seung-Hwan Lee;Clin Psychopharmacol Neurosci;2018 .


[8] Body sway reflects joint emotional expression in music ensemble performance; Andrew Chang et al; Scientific Reports; 2019.


[9] Emotional expression accounts for the effects of head posture on perceived personality; Perrett, David; Cognitive Neuroscience Society (CNS);2019.



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Willian Barela Costa

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