Status and Power

Research in the field of linguistics has shown that there is a direct relationship between the amount of status, power or prestige a person commands and that person’s range of vocabu¬lary. In other words, the higher up the social or management ladder a person is, the better able he is to communicate in words and phrases. Non-verbal research has revealed a correlation between a person’s command of the spoken word and the amount of gesticula¬tion that that person uses to communicate his or her message. This means that a person’s status, power or prestige is also directly related to the number of gestures or body movements he uses. The person at the top end of the social or management scale can use his range of words to communicate his meaning, where¬as the less educated or unskilled person will rely more on gestures than words to communicate.
Throughout this book, most of the ex¬amples given refer to white, middle-class people but, as a general rule the higher the person on the socio-economic scale, the less gesticulation and body movement he uses.
The speed of some gestures and how obvious they look to others is also related to the age of the individual. For example, if a five-year-old child tells a lie to his or her parent, the mouth will be deliberately covered with one or both hands immediately after¬wards (Figure 6). The gesture of covering the mouth alerts the parent to the lie and this gesture continues to be used throughout the individual’s lifetime, usually varying only in the speed at which it is done. When the teenager tells a lie, the hand is brought to the mouth like that of a five-year-old, but instead of the obvious hand slapping gesture over the mouth, the fingers rub lightly around it (Figure 7).
This mouth-covering gesture becomes even more refined in adulthood. When the adult tells a lie, his brain instructs his hand to cover his mouth in an attempt to block the deceit¬ful words, just as it does for the five-year-old and the teenager, but at the last moment the hand is pulled away from the face and a nose touch gesture results (Figure 8). This gesture is nothing more than the adult’s sophisticated version of the mouth-covering gesture that was used in childhood. This is an example of the fact that, as an individual gets older, many of his gestures become sophisticated and less obvious, which is why it is often more difficult to read the gestures of a fifty¬ year-old than those of a much younger person.


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