Subliminal Hacking
The Art and Science of Social Engineering


July 28, 2010

Body Talk… Arms out rah rah rah

Hope everyone is off to a good week, what with Defcon, Blackhat etc I am sure many of you are travelling. I personally had a weekend break in Cardiff and enjoyed doing a little grey matter manipulation, as well as talking about social engineering, mentalism, body language and more.

So with body language on my mind, its time to get into it again, this time we are going to look at the arms. Before anyone asks, yes they are my biceps…… honest.


So why bother with the arms you might be thinking? Well they are a good transmitter when someone is expressing themselves, and they are a good area to observe to pick up on signs of both confidence and discomfort as well as other emotional experiences.

We also rely a great deal on our arms, not only for the obvious things, but for the subconscious actions that occur. Our arms automatically reach out to grab a dropping item, raise to protect us from danger in swinging and blocking motions, even when it may not make sense. This is again the limbic systems carrying out basic primitive survival actions.

So onto the observational stuff. Have you noticed how when we are happy and content our arms move more freely, moving around on the wave of enjoyment, sometimes raising over our heads in excitement, exchanging high fives and cheering. When people are having a good time, content and energised you will really notice an increase in arm movement. When the opposite experiences and emotions are going on, there is a droopy sulky nature to the arms. Hanging down, more rigid and withdrawn. A key observation here is the arms forming very closely to our sides, or closing across our chest in a protective manner. This motions can be observed in relation to both physical and emotional pain or distress, its a guarded and protective reaction.

Another interesting observation, is the statue / frozen type of stance in the arms. This is common reaction that stems back to animalistic survival techniques, we freeze to attempt to remain unnoticed. If you observe someone become statue like / arms fixed to the side in the presence or approach of an individual this is usually a sign that there are bad feelings, or a history of discomfort in the relationship.

The arms also have a story to tell when you are approaching them. If you are approached arms stretched out, in a come here type of look, its pretty clear they are happy to see you. If the upper arms remain rigid in a vertical manner and just the lower arms are extended from below the elbow, then this communicates that you are kinda welcome, but the greeting is more that of a political correctness.  Arms placed behind the back locked out of sight, is a clear signal of not being interested, wanting to be left alone, and not to be interacted with. This is somewhat similar to when people have their hands in their pockets, and it a world of there own. If you see these later signs when you approach someone, it is a clear signal of they do not want to interact with your, or depending on the situation have something to hide. Another common display, and I am sure many of us are familiar with the saying “keeping you at arms length”. Well this is true, we will extend an arm to keep people at a distance, that we feel keeps them out of our personal space. You often see this in crowded places, and situations of conflict.

Finally we shall quickly look at the arms language regarding dominance. We have spoken about this a little before, in how humans spread their legs to take up more room, in a sign of territorial stance. The arms can also play a similar role. People spread out there elbows, place them on there hips to take up more space, and show they are dominant in that space. The more or less territory someone takes up is a good sign of how confident they are feeling at that time, in the situation they are in. Another sign of dominance with the arms is when people put there hands behind their head, with elbows pointing out. The is a very confident, laid back approach, signifying authority and that your in charge and mean business. Similar to this is having arms spread out spanning multiple chairs, or a bench. As well as planting your hands with arm splayed out on a desk, in an authoritarian manner.

Hopefully you found this information interesting and insightful. As per usual be mindful, keep your eyes open and watch for what’s happening around you.

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    About the Author

    Dale Pearson
    has worked in IT since 1998, Infosec since 2004, and studied and performed hypnosis, mentalism etc since 2009. Dale is a full time Red Teamer with a love of social engineering and qualified hypnotherapist. He spends a great deal of time researching the various skills and techniques that make up the art and science of Social Engineering.

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