Talking Torsos and Other Noisy Body Parts: Deciphering Body Language Below the Face

A Guide to Conducting Research in the Age of Covid-19: Part 4

By David M. Schneer, Ph.D./CEO

No, the Talking Torsos are a not a hot new rock band. While our face is today’s video diva, our ventral side has usurped the limelight. Torsos do talk, so listen up.

Often neglected in the study of nonverbal intelligence, the Torso is our “body’s billboard,” claims former FBI Agent and Profiler, Joe Navarro. Says Joe, “Our torso, while rarely recognized in the study of nonverbals, is actually a very good place to collect information about people, from life choices to how they feel.”[1] We concur.

In our last blog “Burning Down the House (In a Pandemic); Deciphering the Language of Talking Heads” we highlighted the seven emotions contained in micro expressions and what they mean as you observe them over video. In part five of our series, we’ll show you what can be deciphered on video calls when you can only see a torso and head.

Fortunately, there is much you can decipher just from the torso itself. Here are 10 tips[2] to look for when you can only see a person’s torso and head.

  1. Ventral facing: we turn our stomachs toward that which we like.
  2. Ventral denial: we turn our stomachs away from that which we do not like.
  3. Moving shirts: while our legs struggle to be heard, you can actually “hear” this by observing shirts, jackets or blouses that shift as a result.
  4. Leaning back/Elbows Up: whoever does this is conveying authority, comfort or confidence. Typically, the boss!
  5. Ventral Covering: people will cover their stomachs (purse, briefcase, book, arms, anything) when they dislike something.
  6. Leaning Forward: we lean our ventral side to that which we are attracted.
  7. Chest pressing: a sign of anxiety or stress when someone presses their fingers into their chest.
  8. Clavicle massage: a soothing gesture and another sign of anxiety of stress.
  9. Palm on chest: a greeting in some cultures and often an attempt at conveying authenticity (e.g., “I am to be believed”)
  10. Ejection seat effect: Sometimes, typically on job interviews, a person will pop up like a troubled pilot who’s been ejected from his plan. A sure sign that the person has just experienced something extremely stressful.


Wait a minute, you think. Talking heads and torsos vying for attention? What about those things flailing around in some videos? Yes, hands. They talk too. Stay tuned for our next blog which will cover the peculiar language of hands.

As a body language master and qualitative moderator, I can tell you that in-person interviewing yields significantly more information than remote methods for those who can decipher the cues, but phone and video remain powerful alternatives for quickly collecting many types of data—especially now.

Download our more in-depth comparison of the advantages and disadvantages of remote interviewing.For additional information on COVID-19 visit the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Coronavirus information page.Most Communications is Nonverbal. Are you fluent?

[1] Excerpt From: Joe Navarro. “The Dictionary of Body Language.” Apple Books.

[2] Ibid.

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