Friday, April 19, 2013

Nonverbal Communication Analysis # 2373:
We Feel Contempt towards
Boston Marathon Bombing Suspect Dzhokar Tsarnaev
What Does His Body Language Reveal?

At the time of this post, Dzhokar Tsarnaev is reportedly surrounded by police in Watertown, Massachusetts. His older brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed in a shootout last night. The two are suspects in the Boston Marathon Bombings earlier this week.

Update 2112 hours EST, 19 April 2013 - Suspect Dzhokar Tsarnaev is alive and in custody.

We certainly feel contempt towards these brothers and their actions - but what do the nonverbal clues displayed in this image reveal about Dzhokar Tsarnaev's emotions? Most beginners and even some with a fair amount of experience in body language will say that in this image, the younger Tsarnaev's expression is consistent with contempt. Two particular characteristics that would make many think this is his left nostril appears to be flared and his lids are partially closed.

If we look at older photos of Dzhokar Tsarnaev however - we see his eyelids are all partially closed more so than normal. He has longstanding "droopy eyelids" - probably since birth and medically this is classified as "congenital ptosis" (born with droopy eyelids). In addition, his downward gaze naturally engenders a further closing of his upper eyelids. Thus when a person feels and displays contempt (as well as disgust and mild-moderate anger), it is natural and expected for the eyelids to partially close (think classic Clint Eastwood here - particularly for an anger example). But since Dzhokar Tsarnaev has congenital ptosis - this steers us to a false conclusion (and for those who have congenital ptosis, this is one reason very valid to get cosmetic surgery). Most body language sources don't discuss this "contempt amplifier" component of partial eyelid closure with regards to disgust or contempt - or the false positive signals of congenital ptosis may send - but they are all very important issues when assessing this negative nonverbal expression.

The camera angle also makes Tsarnaev's left nostril look dilated. This is another false positive. A flared (dilated) nostril is a crucial component in the expression of contempt. Yet this is another false positive. Thus although we feel strong contempt towards Dzhokar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev - if indeed these alleged perpetrators are guilty, and because we feel such strong empathy and compassion for those who have suffered in the bombings and subsequent associated crimes - we are naturally biased to see negative expression on his face. This image does not display contempt - rather it is a neutral expression.


This is not a political post or an opportunity to rant (nor are any of mine). Rather it is a forum for teaching body language/nonverbal communication. After all, it's a great exercise in objectivity to do one's best - when we look at those whose actions/alleged actions we despise (as we all do) without strong bias. Human beings see what we want to see. Guarding against such tendencies makes us better stewards in any society that values fairness and justice

See also:

Nonverbal Communication Analysis # 2372:  Boston Marathon Bombing Suspects - A Common Pre-Crime Body Language Pattern

Nonverbal Communication Analysis # 2369:  Pat Toomey Announces  Boston Marathon Bombings on Senate Floor -  Body Language of Sincerity and Empathy 

Nonverbal Communication Analysis # 2228:  Jay Carney's Body Language - Contempt disguised as a Sniff .... for Republicans' Solutions to the Fiscal Cliff

Nonverbal Communication Analysis # 1890:  Eric Holder has (Emotional) Contempt toward Darrell Issa -  while Rep. Issa is Very Excited to be Seeking  "Contempt of Congress" against Holder

Nonverbal Communication Analysis # 2312:  Bruce Willis' Body Language - Contempt vs. Suppressed Smile vs.  Pseudo Smile vs. Sincere Smile

Nonverbal Communication Analysis # 2350:  Contempt - both dramatic and subtle -  Backpedaling and Body Language

Negotiation Body Language Secret # 457:  Salman Rusdie and a Contempt Amplifier

Nonverbal Communication Analysis # 2191:  Anne Hathaway's Impersonation of Katie Holmes on SNL -  "Norming" Katie and Variations on a Theme