Can Feet Tell the Truth?: How Legs and Feet can Reveal the Mind’s Eye!

By David M. Schneer, Ph.D.

Sometimes, when we stumble upon our words, it may feel as though we are only opening up our mouths to switch feet. But the stark reality is this: our feet were made for talking.

It is well known that facial expressions can convey more truth than a person’s words. For example, a person’s eyes can tell you whether they are enjoying what they are seeing or not. If a person likes what they are seeing, their pupils will grow as the brain says, “give me more.” Conversely, a person whose pupils are small indicates that the person dislikes what they are seeing. Hence the term, “beady eyes.”

But what about people’s legs and feet? Can they tell anything about what a person is feeling? Absolutely! Many experts in the field regard the legs and feet as more reliable signposts of emotions than facial expressions. Here’s why.

In a series of tests confirmed by Dr. Paul Eckman—as well as practiced in the training from the Center for Body Language (Belgium)—people who lie are more likely to increase their foot movements—irrespective of gender. While some people are adept at faking facial expressions to conceal lies, most are completely ignorant of what their legs and feet are telling others.

Furthermore, professional lie-catchers and astute body language observers are more successful at detecting falsehoods when they are able to observe peoples’ lower extremities. Perhaps this is the reason that many people—especially managers—will sit behind a solid desk to conceal their legs? If you’ve ever felt uncomfortable sitting at a glass table, it is likely that you subconsciously felt less in control with exposed legs and feet, says Eckman.

If you want to ascertain whether someone is telling the truth, just look at their legs and feet. Explains Allan and Barbara Pease, “The legs evolved in humans to serve two purposes: to move forward to get food and to run away from danger. Because the human brain is hardwired for these two objectives—to go toward what we want and move away from what we don’t want—the way a person uses their legs and feet reveals where they want to go. In other words, they show a person’s commitment to leaving or staying in a conversation.” [1]

Some common telltale signs that could indicate certain emotions and/or falsehoods:

  1. Splayed legs: In the world of business and negotiations, legs in an open stance can communicate a desire to learn more or superiority/dominance.
  2. Crossed Legs: Spell a closed attitude or even uncertainty. When a person displays crossed arms and legs, it is likely they have emotionally darted away from the conversation and you are not likely to convince them of anything.
    • Studies have shown that people who exhibit a closed posture are more likely to speak in short, staccato sentences, remember fewer conversation details, and deny more proposals or propositions than those exhibiting a more open position.
    • The same can be true in the dating scene: a woman who folds her arms across her chest and positions crossed legs away from you is basically saying, “no chance, buddy.” Unconsciously, uninterested women (and men) will inadvertently point their feet toward an exit sign. What is the message? “Check please!” A more interested woman (or man) would likely have a more open leg stance with feet pointed toward the subject of interest.
  3. The Ankle Lock: This position can often be seen with clenched fists resting on one’s knees or hands gripping the chair’s arms. Essentially, this is tantamount to “biting one’s lip”. Woman who are uneasy or emotionally withdrawn almost singularly show knees locked together, feet pointing to one side and hands at the side or placed atop the knees (unless, of course they are royalty or perhaps a dire attempt to cover up a wardrobe malfunction).
  4. The Leg Twine: Shy or timid people display the leg twine. What does this look like? You’ve probably seen it before but did not detect it’s meaning. In this gesture, the top of one foot locks around the other in a show of insecurity. If you observe this gesture, a kinder, gentler approach may be warranted.
  5. Happy (Tapping) Feet: Don’t be misled by tapping feet (unless you’re at a concert). Tapping feet may indicate nervousness and uneasiness.

These gestures are just a few of the more common and noticeable ones, but there are many more positions that can tell a tale.

Which brings us back to the topic of glass tables. To the extent that it is possible, conversing or negotiating around a glass table is ideal. If you’re constantly negotiating, invest in a glass table. As for focus group facilities, we recommend they offer glass tables in their moderation rooms.

Stay tuned for more tips on spotting incongruencies between what people say with their mouths and what their bodies are telling you!

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[1] Pease, Allan & Barbara . The Definitive Book of Body Language (p. 211). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.