The NonVerbal Dictionary of Gestures, Signs & Body Language Cues

Body Alignment

Posture1. Birds may align their bodies in parallel for purposes of caregiving. 2. In humans, the degree of orientation between a speaker's torso and that of a listener (e.g., facing or angled away), as measured in thecoronal plane (which divides the body into front and back; see ANGULAR DISTANCE).

Usage: We show agreement, liking, and loyalty by aligning the upper body with that, e.g., of our boss. It is often possible to identify the most powerful (i.e., highest status) person seated at a conference table by the relative number of torsos aimed in his or her direction. While the less influential may glance freely about, and turn their heads toward colleagues as they speak, their torsos remain loyally oriented to the individual they most respect.

World politics. "At summit, when [Ronald] Reagan and [Mikhail] Gorbachev faced each other with similar postures, they were likely to be in agreement, or close to agreement" (Blum 1988:6-6).

RESEARCH REPORTS1. Direct torso alignment in the face-to-face body orientation presents a formal, businesslike posture (Scheflen 1964). 2. Aiming the upper body conveys greater feelings of liking (i.e., ofimmediacy) than when the body is angled away (Mehrabian 1969). 3. Lean-forward suggests friendliness (Mehrabian 1974), while lean-backward expresses a more negative pose (Mehrabian 1969). 4. In humans, a non-aligned, parallel orientation discloses neutral or passive moods which may grade into disliking or disagreement (Scheflen 1964, Richmond et al. 1991).
Courtship. Women (and men) unthinkingly "aim" their upper bodies at partners they like--even while angling their faces and eyes away. Squaring-up with the shoulders is a nonverbal invitation to speak.
See also CUT-OFF.

Photo of aligned shoebill storks orienting toward their 65-day-old chick; the chick hatched on Christmas Day, 2009 (Balaeniceps rex; photo forwarded by Susie Wong, San Diego Zoo; copyright 2010 by Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo, the chick's birthplace)