There was an interesting and very illustrative incident caught on camera phone today at Dallas/Ft. Worth International Airport. A man who was very probably under the influence of drugs or alcohol (not confirmed yet though) yelled, used profane language and homophobic slurs at another man while others tried to de-escalate the situation. The perpetrator also repeatedly using obscene gestures and other inflammatory body language.
What nonverbal cues occurred here which, with very high probability, indicated that this obviously deranged individual would assault someone?
The answer is the repeated incursions into the personal space of others (and similar behaviors) by the man in question. Whenever you see repeated deliberate invasions of the personal space, be warned - for there is a very high likelihood that violence will ensue. While those passengers around him were coming to another man's aid, in infinite other settings where security personnel were not so readily available and security and surveillance are not foremost in other travelers minds', this assault would have progressed rapidly and become much more violent.
0:07 attempting to grab phone away
Of course this is an assault. Security should have been called immediately at this time (perhaps before, but no earlier video is available).
Second provocative invasion of personal space
3rd encroachment into personal space
The perpetrator can be seen giving the middle finger gesture (a universal emblem of profanity) with both hands to another man while leaning towards him.
This "double-bird with leaning forward" nonverbal cluster is highly predictive of potential violence.
Although he is not in this man's personal space at this moment, the act of leaning toward him with this (and similar) body language is an amplifier of personal space violation - essentially closing the space between him and the person/people to whom it's directed - ergo the 5th encroachment.
0:29 Jacket Removal
A psychological line is crossed here. This is another high-likelihood predictor of violence about to begin.
7th Encroachment with a third man
0:58 - 1:03
His hyperbolic/melodramatic movements also are predictive of
increased likelihood of violent behavior.
Sexually provocative gesture which, like the middle finger, effectively closes the space between the perpetrator and to whomever it's directed.
The major assault begins
While personal space varies depending on the country or culture (e.g. closer in Southern Europe with greater distances in Northern Europe), city density (closer in New York City and further apart in Salt Lake City) and the micro-environment/building use (closer in an airport than in a library) - "Personal Distance" is usually defined as 1.5 to 4.0 feet (46-122 cm). Anything closer is considered "Intimate Distance" and usually reserved for family, close friends and lovers (although in scenarios such as subways or airplanes are temporary exceptions). "Social Distance" is from 4 to 12 feet (1.2-3.7 meters) and "Public Distance" is anything greater than 12 feet (3.7 meters).
It seems that the security personnel should have stepped in much sooner, particularly at an airport and a major one at that. Deliberate and provocative encroachment into another person's personal space should never be taken as someone "just venting", arguing or discussing. Disengage, seek shelter and/or law enforcement immediately.
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Nonverbal Communication Analysis No. 2656: Threat Assessment during Robbery - Body Language of Perpetrator
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Nonverbal Communication Analysis No. 2858: Hope Solo, Domestic Violence, Arrests and Wedding Rings - Body Language Tells
Nonverbal Communication Analysis # 2039: Fight Outside Florida Courtroom - Jaw Jut Prior to Violence
Nonverbal Communication Analysis No. 2955: Adrian Peterson - a Telling Body Language Cluster