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Understanding Body Language


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Gestures are often easily understood, but the their meaning can differ based on the culture.

Photo by Henning Buchholz

Gestures can be some of the most direct and obvious body language signals. Waving, pointing, and using the fingers to indicate numerical amounts are all very common and easy to understand gestures. Some gestures may be cultural, however, so giving a thumbs-up or a peace sign might have a completely different meaning than it might in the United States.

The following examples are just a few common gestures and their possible meanings:

  • A clenched fist can indicate anger or solidarity.

  • A thumbs up and thumbs down are often used as gestures of approval and disapproval.

  • The "Okay" gesture, made by touching together the thumb and index finger in a circle while extending the other three fingers can be used to mean okay. In some parts of Europe, however, the same signal is used to imply you are nothing. In some South American countries, the symbol is actually a vulgar gesture.

  • The V sign, created by lifting the index and middle finger and separating them to create a V-shape, means peace or victory in some countries. In the United Kingdom and Australia, the symbol takes on an offensive meaning when the back of the hand is facing outward.

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