Body language

February 22, 2012

It is common knowledge that what we (humans) say is only a small percentage of what we actually communicate. Although humans are believed to be the only animal that can outright ignore instincts, the grammar of body language would appear to be extremely difficult to manipulate, since it is so closely connected to affect.

When somebody lies, their pulse will rise, affecting their own body, and in turn affecting others on an almost completely subconscious level. To gain advantage from body-language it has to be read, interpreted and reacted upon within a fraction of a second. In the communication between bodies there is no room for hesitation. Because, as soon as there is hesitation, or delay, the other body will react to that delay, and will already have adjusted to this new condition and that makes the communication all tangled up and distorted.

Body-language is like music to our senses, and this can be made extremely apparent in the art of acting. Sometimes we can be incredibly moved by a performance, and sometimes we are completely unaffected. This could of course depend on the subject matter, but even if the play is interesting on a philosophical level, it is uninteresting to us, unless it moves us.

What is it about a play that can make us feel moved? Is it the subject, is it the skill of the playwrite, or is it the ability of the actors to transmit feelings, and affect the audience?

It is much more tangible when we think a play or an actor is absolute crap. We realize that the reason for the plays failure it is probably because we don’t believe that the actor believe in what the character is communicating. When reacting to another character, it is not sufficient to just deliver a line which fits in to the conversation. The actor has to really feel what is affecting the character, react, think the thought and then deliver the response. And this has to be instantaneous, or it will ruin the illusion irreparably.

Another example of the power of body-language can be drawn from the world of card plays.

I will begin with poker. Because this is an “easy” game to understand. It comes in numerous variations, Hold’em, Omaha, three- five- or seven card stud, dark-poker, Chinese poker, lowball, etc…And the rules of these different variations are not hard to comprehend, but the logic of the mechanisms behind the game can be a bit more difficult to uncover.

In poker, a big part of the game is actually not about bluffing or being a master of deception, trades that are popularly thought of typical trades of the regarded as the essence of the game.  In fact, the mechanism of statistics and probabilities are absolutely essential to the game.

However, interestingly enough there are few world-class poker players with advanced mathematical degrees. This is probably so, because it is not nearly enough with “book-intelligence” to be a winner in poker. It is more a matter of acquired and matured knowledge gained through personal experience and the teachings of more experienced players.

And it gets even more abstract if we move to another card-game; Bridge. The rules of  Bridge are a lot more complicated than poker, and the game itself is a bit more abstract. Bridge, of course, has a lot of common traits with poker, in terms of having to visualize an opponents cardholding, anticipating and counteracting their moves.


But, it is in general, much more difficult to explain the finer mechanics of this particular game. It has much more to do with logic and psychology rather than hard numbers. It is essential to feel the game, not just understand it. An average player may have rudimentary understanding of  the game, but the real elite players will always have an extra edge which is less tangible and more about the subtle signs and unconscious signals that transmits from ones opponents.


This skill is termed table-precense, or table-feel, which signifies a player who is, at a subconscious level, completely aware of what is going on in his/her opponents minds, and is therefore able to predict their moves and their thoughts.


– Kristin Nedlich


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