The Guardian (UK)
Nervous shifting betrays president suffering torment
Body language: The signs are not good
By Richard Wiseman
Tuesday September 22, 1998
President Clinton's body language as he gave evidence to the Grand Jury
revealed a man struggling to keep himself together, who did a pretty good job
of it, but, at certain points, betrayed his true fear.
This was a man who was very worried when he walked in, discovered it wasn't as
bad as he had expected, became a little bit confident - and suddenly found out
it was a bit of a nightmare.
He was a man trying to keep control but, occasionally, the mask dropped - for
instance, when he was asked about the cigar episode and looked genuinely
Early on, he gave the impression of extreme nervousness. He had a high blink
rate and maintained very high eye contact, which is what people do to give
the impression they're not nervous, when in fact they are. He coughed a lot,
sipped water and Diet Coke frequently, and his voice cracked.
When discussing gifts he had given Ms Lewinsky and definitions of sexual
relations, he looked relaxed and his performance was quite smooth and
impressive. There was a sense of genuine interaction; his eye contact became
more natural, with him looking away and not staring, and he was not at all
hesitant - he was just coming out with the answers although he was obviously
taking time to think about them.
He interlaced his fingers, which suggests relaxation, and he used various
gestures which he will have learned give the impression of being angelic:
things like touching his heart, as though as to say: "I am telling you the
truth," and putting his hands together as if in prayer. Gestures you make
when you are confident and in control.
When he was asked what constituted a sexual encounter, he went into a third
phase - and all his movements betrayed his nervousness. He began moving
backwards and forwards, whereas before there was a lack of movement, and his
posture became more defensive, with him folding his hands in front.
His voice started croaking and he started touching his face - pushing up the
sides of it, covering his mouth. His level of eye contact altered, with him
looking down a lot as if he wanted to withdraw. He was very uncomfortable.
Here was a man who was being asked sensitive questions and it is not
surprising he wanted to shy away. The voice cracking, the hesitancy, the
shuffling in his seat, the looking away are also signs which accompany lying.
The only thing which is not consistent with this is that he gave fairly long
Dr Richard Wiseman is a psychologist and senior research fellow at the
University of Hertfordshire, specialising in body language and the psychology
of deception. ‰
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