Viewing People As Structures

Post Two In A Six-Month Series On People Reading

Pre-Post Ramble:

Sometimes when I’m in a public place, I stop seeing the people around me as human beings, and instead see them as a living pattern.

The image above is from one of my 'little black books' I've mentioned - small notebooks that I use to record random observations.

You may have already realized something similar to what I mentioned in my notebook. When Heather Madame and I took zumba classes last year, I noticed that when we started the class, we wanted to stay in the back and blend in. But the more comfortable we became, the more we wanted to be on the edges of the group and eventually ended up near the front-middle of the group. It was about this time that I was wrapping up my Rorschach inkblot experiment at The Center, so my mind was still spinning with random psychological information.

When you analyze the results of a Rorschach inkblot test, the one thing you look at first is certainly not what the subject saw, but where. Because the exact content of what the subject saw may be from a TV show they watched the night before, or from a song they heard on the radio that morning, an article from a magazine, ect., exactly what you see in an inkblot will change hour to hour, sometimes minute to minute, I’ve realized. Sometimes in phase two of the test (when I had the subjects look over the inkblots a second time and speak in about greater detail what they saw) when I would remind the subject of what they originally found in the blot, they would look at the paper, flip it this way and that, and say “I’m sorry…I just don’t see it anymore.” But what never changed was where their eyes darted when they looked at the inkblots. Take a look at the image below:

This is a rather basic inklot. The way Rorschach arranged his inkblots when he interviewed his schizophrenic and depressed patients, was the same arrangement that he used to test children and mentally healthy adults. The blots start out basic and colorless, and gradually become more intricate and more color is added until you are shown a blot entirely in chromatic tones. The same interpretations always apply for every blot:

If you look more in the middle/bottom of the blot, you are likely predominantly introverted depending on how many blots you view this way, but if you find yourself paying more attention to the outer edges/top of the blot, you are more likely to be extraverted. (Though it should be taken into account that the subject will probably pay more attention to the top of the blot due to the lack of ink at the bottom of the blot posted above.)

I saw the zumba group as a giant Rorschach inkblot. This idea cannot be used for every group of individuals, because, as Rorschach himself said in Psychodiagnostik (1921), the inkblot test, in purest terms, is truly only a test of how well a human being can respond to the tension of a completely unfamiliar  situation. At the zumba class, nearly every woman there was middle-aged and very insecure. No one knew what to expect to come up on the playlist or the dance routine. A perfect situation for a living, breathing Rorschach inkblot to form.

Post-Ramble Post:

Viewing human beings as structures can give us, incredibly enough, greater insight into human nature than viewing human beings as, well, human beings.

Think of a pointillist painting: thousands of tiny dots are used to form an image that can be seen clearly when you back away from the canvas and view the image as a whole. Too often people want to read people by first looking at the finer details and then building upward, when really the opposite method should be applied. In this way, learning to read people is the same as learning to analyze handwriting. You must start with the basics, the framework, the big picture before looking for signals that will give you more specific information. Why? Because it’s easier to interpret. The big picture never lies unless that is the intent of the subject (as for spotting lies, we’ll discuss that in a future post.)

Remember – you already know how to read people. I’ll prove it to you, take a wild gander at what facial expressions these are:

 

We know instinctively what facial expressions such as the ones featured above mean. While some facial signals vary from culture to culture (as in deliberate facial expressions or movements such as a wink or sticking out your tongue) all natural (involuntary) facial expressions are the same throughout the world, even blind people use the same facial expressions, so we know we are born with not the ability, but the involuntary feature of expressing our emotions as a way of protecting ourselves by showing we have good intentions (smiling is seen as an unthreatening expression, even in animals,) or intimidating an enemy (when we see the facial expression of intense anger, or ‘fury’, fight or flight kicks in and starts up our autonomic nervous system (think: automaticThe ANS controls all involuntary functions,) and prepares us first to leave, and if we cannot, for an altercation.)

The autonomic nervous system is divided into the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, the sympathetic nervous system controls fight or flight and the parasympathetic helps us recover afterwards.

I tell you all of this because, while I do not encourage always reading someone by intuition alone (you will always be biased subconsciously when you try to read someone,) when you can’t read someone from clear signals, you should trust your instincts. You’ve been reading people since the day you opened your eyes and saw your mother smiling at you, causing you to imitate her facial expressions and associate her smiling with positive circumstances.

We Are All Empathetic

 Experiments have shown that we automatically imitate whatever facial expression we are viewing, even if we don’t completely mirror the other person, our brain responds to their expressions and subtly activates the muscles creating the expression. Some researchers believe that there is a ‘mirror neuron’ in the brain that causes this imitation. Psychopaths, who lack empathy completely, cannot understand facial expressions on an instinctive level like healthy individuals can. They instead have to teach themselves what facial expressions are acceptable, and consciously imitate them to manipulate those around them.

Just a side note: if you want a more positive mood or to feel more confident, then even if you don’t feel the emotion, imitate the signals! Paul Ekman (the man who is responsible for nearly all major breakthroughs in our understanding of facial expressions) found that we’re attracted to people who smile often because when we see them smile and our muscles imitate the expression, it causes a release of endorphins that we would have gotten if we had been the one smiling in the first place! In a nutshell, smiling, even if you don’t feel happy, causes the release of ‘feel-good’ chemicals in your brain and improves your mood. As for feeling confident, the same principle applies, if you stand with your shoulders back, chin level and walk with purpose, your brain is going to help you out and make you feel the emotion you portray, so within minutes you will actually be confident! I’ve tried this out myself on many occasions when I’ve felt uncomfortable in social situations or unsure of myself in the middle of a test even, and without fail this has improved my mood and self-esteem… ha, and that was supposed to be just a side note…

 Now, for the actual point of the post, viewing people as structures.

I’ve noticed four similarities to the method of analyzing handwriting and body language:

  1. The Lean
  2. Framework
  3. Amount of Expression
  4. The Use of Basic Intuition

For this section, we’ll be looking at the lean.

A lean in handwriting analysis refers to which way letters seem to ‘sway’ on the paper. According to Confucius, you should “Beware of the man whose handwriting is like reeds in the wind.” And, so it turns out, Master Kong was thinking up the right alley. Quack handwriting analysis books and sensible texts alike explain that handwriting with a frequently changing lean (on average, two times per paragraph) suggests an emotionally unstable individual. As for leans in body language (when the subject is sitting down), they tell us:

  • How the subject feels about who they are speaking with
  • How the subject feels about the current situation
  • & how the subject feels about the current conversation

I’ll try to keep the explanation brief, because it really is very simple.

Imagine you have just walked into a Starbucks and you see two people sitting down in those rather extremely comfy leather seats next to each other, and both people are leaning towards each other. (Assuming that it isn’t just loud inside of the Starbucks and they’re leaning forward simply because it’s difficult to hear each other,) from this single glance we know that both people are on some level emotionally invested in the conversation.

Remember, just because one signal can represent a specific message, does not mean that the opposite signal represents the opposite message.

On the other hand, if both people are leaning away from each other, this does not indicate resentment towards the other person or disinterest in the conversation. They may simply be comfortable with each other and are talking about nothing of emotional concern. (Just a note: you will mainly see negativity expressed by leaning away from each other only if the individuals are in business attire and not casual dress. Obviously, two casually dressed individuals willingly sitting next to each other in a Starbucks are probably on good terms, meanwhile, businessmen holding meetings/job interviews – my father, a small business owner, does this often – will not be in the brightest mood, and if a superior is having lunch with a subordinate, you can be sure to see a lot of judging and discomfort.) Interpreting signals can always be helped along by noting clothing and gender.

If one person is leaning towards someone who is leaning away, often the person leaning forward is trying to ‘reach out’ or persuade the person leaning away. It may be they are trying to win them over emotionally (they don’t feel that the person leaning away is really friends with them, or they are uncertain whose ‘team’ they are on and are trying to win them over in this way,) or romantically (I have yet to see a female try to ‘win over’ a guy, it’s always the fellow leaning forward,) in this case you’ll notice the person leaning forward is closely watching the facial expressions of the person leaning away (Bernard Asbell, author of a wonderful book called What They Know About You, explained that couples who are secure in their relationship will not watch their spouse/boyfriend/girlfriend’s facial expressions often, while couples who are insecure will frequently note each other’s reactions.)

One mistake that even professionals make, is to forget the possibility of complete and total error. There is always the possibility that Person 1 is leaning forward because Person 2 is talking too quietly and Person 1 doesn’t want to be rude and say anything. Even Paul Ekman has said that real-life people reading is not as wonderfully accurate and quick as it seems to be on the show based on him, Lie to Me.

Always consider the obvious! Someone may be crossing their arms because they are cold, not because they are comforting themselves or feel defensive. Someone may be rubbing their nose because of a fiber or cat hair, not because blood has rushed to their nose out of the tension of the conversation and they are trying to come up with a lie. (In case you’re wondering, rubbing their nose while someone is lying does happen! When you lie, chemicals called catecholamines are released, causing the tissue inside of your nose to swell, and your nose actually expands with blood! Allan Pease, author of The Definitive Book of Body Language calls this ‘The Pinocchio Effect’.)

End-of-the-Post Rant:

There is no such thing as speed-reading. Not unless you’re one of Paul Ekman’s ‘wizards’ or ‘naturals’ (people who were born with the ability to instantly read and interpret microexpressions.) The reason a lot of us pick up books on handwriting analysis and body language, is because we like the notion that we can become super spies in our own homes. We can become the Mentalist, we can become Columbo, we can become James Bond. While basic signals can be easily read in an instant, the popular notion of actually ‘speed-reading’ someone so deeply that you might as well be reading their mind, is simply impossible, at least, if you’re one of the 99% of people who aren’t Paul Ekman wizards.

Allow me to sound like an arrogant bafoon for a moment and say that I am good at reading people. Very good. But here’s how I know that I am excellent at people reading: I came to the point in my studies where I stopped looking back at all that I had read and witnessed and how much I knew, and realized how much I had yet to read and witness and hear. I came to a place where I had to ask ‘Am I wrong?’ and stop justifying bogus interpretations. I won’t lie: it feels like a superpower when you learn enough to view people in an entirely new way, but after the high wears off, just remember that the best of the best truly are the greatest, because they know what it means to swallow their pride and throw away a perfectly lovely theory. A perfectly lovely read. A perfectly lovely explanation. You’ll know you’re good at something, very good, when you realize how horrible you have the ability to be.

–Hannah-Elizabeth

P.S. As soon I beat my scanner into submission, I will be opening a new page on my blog and uploading photos of my personal notes so you can perhaps get a better glimpse into my process. Also on this page I will list recommended articles and books.

P.P.S I’m sorry for waiting until nearly the end of the day to finally post this. Honestly I’ve been working on it for about twelve hours now and I’m not very pleased with it. But, I am learning to stay on track! I can assure you the next post will be better!

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An Odd Sort Of Loneliness

Book

Image by julietteculver via Flickr

Have you ever written, knowing from the start that the words have nowhere to go? You’ve created no endgame, there is no goal or point or even a mental outline. No lessons to describe because as far as you know you haven’t learned a thing.

I suppose I simply feel like writing tonight – I had a bit of an idea in my head, several really, I even thought of an opening sentence that would have been a tad interesting (or at least intriguing enough to keep someone reading a bit longer…)

Often lately I find that, typically in the dead of night I have a sudden need to talk to somebody – to start a conversation with no intent of leading it anywhere, just talking to talk and hear their voice. I love listening to people talk, I like falling asleep with the television on downstairs because I enjoy listening to people on the news discuss trivial and monumental things. Sometimes I wish I could just call Olga or Heather at two ‘o clock in the morning, because I want to listen to someone talk, and talk to them. It’s a really a bizarre sort of loneliness, when you think about it. And it very typically comes about in the wee small hours when I’m most alone – which is odd, usually when it’s very late I enjoy solitude because the world seems so silent and peaceful. But even now I simply want to talk to somebody. For a moment I could wish that this was for some poetic reason – perhaps the need to feel a human connection through verbal discussion while I contemplate my loneliness in the silent hours of chaotic days.

No, though.

I just want to talk to someone sometimes – just because.

Goodnight,

–Hannah-Elizabeth/Classic

Looking (My Fear Of) Death In The Face – Pt. 1

“What a beautiful bridge.” I commented, feeling like we were driving in the middle of a giant art sculpture. I realized how close we were to Batwoman’s studio apartment.

Addison, Texas is an odd place. It has seedy motels, homeless wanderers who bathe in the fountains, and skinny little white boys who seem to think by some stretch of the imagination that they are indeed, gangsters. But in the middle of the filth and poverty, is an area of artistic flair, youthful nightlife, and, oh, shall we say, sanitation. This area would be where Batwoman resides. And where me and my mom were headed Sunday night.

I should probably mention, her name isn’t really the female counterpart to the hero of Gotham City, her name is Olga.

We pulled up to the victorian-styled building and I wrestled with my purse at my feet for a moment, the darned strap was stuck to the bottom of the seat. Eventually I gave up and quickly unzipped it to whip out my make-up to touch up before grabbing my hat and jumping out of the car. The beautiful faded brick and white-iron railed balconies again captured the images from my daydreams. I love this street.

Mom’s iPhone suddenly dinged with a message from Olga, and I looked up to the balconies, expecting to see the familiar raven locks and light green eyes. But I saw no one. I looked expectantly to my mom while holding my hat down in conflict against a sudden breeze.

“She’s going to meet us at the entrance.” She was still staring at her phone. “Usually she just tosses the key down.”

I followed her as she walked down the sidewalk and made an abrupt right. I blinked rapidly for a moment as I realized there was a very narrow hallway in the wall that wasn’t even visible until one was directly upon it. I paused and looked around me. A busy street square to my left, more sidewalk to my right, and a beautiful fountain directly behind me across the street. I wanted to find a reason to savor the moment, but the quickening echo of my mom’s gold flip-flops snapping against her heels told me she wasn’t in a Kodak mood.

We came upon a large tan gate, I had never seen one before except in movies and felt a need to study it up close while I could. Suddenly rapid footsteps down a stairway inside the gate could be heard. I watched the visible landing for her shoes. Five seconds turned to ten, then fifteen before we saw Batwoman.

“Hey!” Mom said in greeting

“Hello there at last!” She exclaimed. ‘At last’ was my thought exactly, for two months now we had been trying to arrange a meeting.

She wore cork-wedge high-heeled shoes, dark green khakis, and an intricately rhinestone studded t-shirt.

I thanked her as she held open the gate. Even in heels she was about an inch shorter than me. After she closed the gate she greeted me again and hugged me in an awkward embrace. She was thinner than I had remembered.

Olga’s thick accent somewhat faded into the background as we worked our way up the steps- and I assure you, there were plenty of them. I looked around us with each landing, suddenly dissociating because of the new environment (a bit that’s part of my anxiety – dissociation is when you feel like you’re watching the world through a movie screen and not totally involved in the situation.) The walls were a light-grey, the door frames were painted gold. There were echoes everywhere from our footsteps and the conversation of my mother and our host.

Her apartment wasn’t as grandly decorated as I had anticipated. From what I had heard, Batwoman has a good deal of money and spends it on worthwhile items. The walls were a typical eggshell white. She had a decent-sized kitchen and large bathroom, the rest of the place being taken up in the largest room which contained a king bed, a 50-inch TV, two bookshelves and a desk and chair. I thought for a moment on what I could compliment her on, but doubted my own sincerity and remained silent.

“Well,” She said, leading us into her livingroom/bedroom/office/library, “Here we are. Please, have a seat, Hannah.” She motioned to a large, tan leather office chair behind me. I sat.

There was a moment of awkward silence as Batwoman contemplated her next move. She looked tired and slightly haggard. A large contrast to when I had last seen her on a chilly night in November. She suddenly walked into her kitchen, my mother following after a pause. I listened until heard the sound of glasses clinking a few seconds later. I stood and joined them in time to see Olga placing the business end of some odd little device into a pitcher of water. It looked like a beige colored remote with flat buttons and a wire that led to a metal tube, the little remote beeped several times and she dropped the tube into the pitcher. I looked over to my mom with a look of What is this wizardry? She inquired of the device and Olga attempted to explain through the language barrier (she speaks excellent english, but sometimes things get lost in translation). So, there we all stood around this pitcher emitting a muffled buzzing noise for several seconds. The little remote then beeped a cheerful little tune, to which Olga removed the metal tube and poured me and my mom glasses.

After I sat, Olga took the chair at her desk by me and, having nowhere else, my mom took a seat at the edge of the bed. A twinkle in her eye when we heard Olga insist I drink the water. Mom had warned me about the water and our host’s unorthodox means of filtering. I took a sip, fully prepared to fall into convulsions, a coma, followed by death. But, to my slight surprise, none occurred.

“So,” Olga said, leaning forward in her seat and watching me with her intense stare, “Why do you think you cannot fix yourself on your own?”

End Part One