If you’re an actor or interested in writing fiction, it’s a good idea to read books like What Every Body Is Saying by former FBI agent, Joe Navarro. This book is about how to read body language. The FBI is interested in this for the same reason they’re interested in polygraphs. Like polygraphs, this stuff doesn’t always work reliably. Nonetheless, I still find non-verbal communication fascinating. If you’re writing fiction, its lack of reliability doesn’t matter. If a certain hand gesture supposedly indicates a certain mood, when you’re trying to convey that certain mood you can throw in the plausible gesture as a bonus. It doesn’t matter if it’s really accurate; what matters is if it rings true to you and, if so, maybe your readers will feel the same. Anyway. Enough of my fiction writing tips.

Palm In, Serious


While reading this book I came across this passage which I took special note of.

In many countries throughout the world, finger pointing is viewed as one of the most offensive gestures a person can display. Studies show that people don’t like it when someone points a finger at them. In schools as well as prison yards, finger pointing is often the precursor to many fights. When talking with their children, parents should be careful to avoid pointing at them while saying things like "I know you did it." The finger pointing is so distasteful that it may actually divert the child’s attention from what is being said as they process the hostile message of the gesture.

Lumping schools in with prisons always makes me smile, but there was something deeper about this. After giving it some thought I wondered what situation I had been in where someone pointed at me. It is pretty rare. But then it came to me — Trump.

Palm Down, Serious


I had this image in my head and wondered if it were valid. So I did a very rough experiment. I did a Google Image search involving a person and the word "pointing" ( like this) and for each of the first N images in order, I classified the types of pointing the person was doing. The quantity N varied based on the quality of the results. I kept recording until I had a decent sample or until the images stopped being sensible (a lot of pointless "other" images).

Palm In, Smiling


For some of my controls like "fred rogers", "beyonce", and "bon jovi", etc. it was clear that there really wasn’t much pointing to be seen at all. But when I turned to politicians it became quite interesting. I’m again using my recent enthusiasm for pie charts and a bit of JavaScript (so turn that on). You can click the names and change the chart.

"dalai lama pointing"

Palm In, Smiling 4 Palm In, Serious 2 Palm Down, Smiling 3 Palm Down, Serious 2 Point Up/Down/Away/Self 10 Other 40
Click search term to select.
dalai lama biden hillary pence obama steve jobs trump

Trump’s narrative never seems to require actual facts. This is unnerving for some of us, but that leaves the conclusion that there is more going on than standard models of reality. It would seem for this reason that Trump is an especially interesting subject for analysis of his non-verbal communication. My conjecture is that being the scion of a wealthy family, he has naturally internalized subconscious mannerisms of a high status individual. He exudes the idea that he is our boss, liege lord, or mafia don. He’s simply the guy who is more important than us. Actual facts supporting that claim aren’t terribly important. He can get away with vulgar boorish behavior because it is expected of people who are less exposed to consequences. For many, apparently, it serves to remind them that Trump is their natural superior and leader. From my perspective, not so much. Now enjoy this video of upper class twits kicking beggars that has an unusually happy ending.