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People watching: A novel guide to human body language and behavior

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  • Rajeev Institute of Ayurvedic Medical Science and Research Centre, Hassan
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Abstract

Desmond Morris has his scrutinized footprints in the field of zoology, ethology, socio-biology, surrealistic painting and television programmes with the focus on human behaviour and zoology. He is an alma mater of University of Oxford and Birmingham. In his scientific career, he was guided by the eminent biologist; ornithologist and noble prize laureate Nikolaas Tinbergen. He lets us embark on his voyage of discovering the observations on animal body language and behaviour through his works. 'People watching' is one such valuable effort by him. Originally the book was published by the title 'Man watching' in the year 1977. The book was raised objection by few critics who mistook the word 'Man' in the title having gender bias (which was not the purpose of the author). In spite of the consent by the author that the 'Man' in the title referred to the 'species', those critics were satisfied only after altering the title to 'People watching' in the year 2002. The book was revised, enlarged and updated with few additions of sections and was published in the same year as the second edition. The artwork on the cover page of the book 'People watching' attracts the reader (so was I). The legible printing, feathery weight and neat bound of the book by Clays Ltd, St Ives plc have their credited contribution with the publisher. The book has its copyrights held by the author himself. The book contains fair amount of pictures, photos, graphs which ties the reader with the content. As the title suggests, the whole book eyes on the 'tie signs' (referred as the term coined by Desmond Morris) observed in people (humans) through their signs, gestures, behaviour, personality and habits. It describes the reader how people consciously and unconsciously signal their attitudes, wishes, emotions and feelings expressed with their bodies through actions. This book of 526 pages contains elaborated 63 sections of these actions/gestures/signs/behaviours. The author claims that these observations on the human body language had a long term fieldwork and investigation of 17 years until he published them as a book in 1977 (first edition). In the introductory part, the author has emphasized to a 'solemn scientific peoplewatcher', who is not just as a peeper, but a serious student of human behaviour. He watches people and observes their action keenly. His field of observation is everywhere. He has something to learn, from these observations. The book throws light on how these animals/human actions become gestures and how these gestures transmit messages as signs and behaviours. The primary concern of a peoplewatcher is on the property of physically active actions and signs of these creatures. According to the author, these bodily activities are the unaware actions and behaviours of their conscious and unconscious mind which reveals their feelings, expressions rather than articulating them through conscious words. The significance of understanding it may gain an insight in understanding his problems and innermost feelings.
© 2019 Annals of Indian Psychiatry | Published by Wolters Kluwer - Medknow 1
Book Review
Desmond Morris [Figure 1] has his scrutinized footprints
in the eld of zoology, ethology, sociobiology, surrealistic
painting, and television programs with the focus on human
behavior and zoology. He is an alma mater of University
of Oxford and Birmingham. In his scientic career, he was
guided by the eminent biologist; ornithologist; and noble
prize laureate Nikolaas Tinbergen. Desmond Morris lets
us embark on his voyage of discovering the observations
on animal body language and behavior through his works.
“People watching” is one such valuable effort by him.
Originally, the book was published with the title “Man
watching” in the year 1977. The book was raised objection by
few critics who mistook the word “Man” in the title having
gender bias (which was not the purpose of the author). In
spite of the consent by the author that the “Man” in the
title referred to the “species,” those critics were satised
only after altering the title to “People watching” in the year
2002. The book was revised, enlarged, and updated with few
additions of sections and was published in the same year as
the second edition.
The artwork on the cover page of the book “People watching”
attracts the reader (so was I). The legible printing, feathery
weight, and neat bound of the book by Clays Ltd, St Ives plc
have their credited contribution with the publisher. The book
has its copyrights held by the author himself. The book contains
a fair amount of pictures, photos, graphs which ties the reader
with the content. As the title suggests, the whole book eyes on
the “tie signs” (referred as the term coined by Desmond Morris)
observed in people (humans) through their signs, gestures,
behavior, personality, and habits. It describes the reader how
people consciously and unconsciously signal their attitudes,
wishes, emotions, and feelings expressed with their bodies
through actions. This book of 526 pages contains elaborated
63 sections of these actions/gestures/signs/behaviors. The
author claims that these observations on the human body
language had a long‑term eldwork and investigation of
17 years until he published them as a book in 1977 (rst
edition).
In the introductory part, the author has emphasized to a “solemn
scientic peoplewatcher,” who is not just a peeper, but a serious
student of human behavior. He watches people and observes
their action keenly. His eld of observation is everywhere. He
has something to learn, from these observations. The book
throws light on how these animals/human actions become
gestures and how these gestures transmit messages as signs
and behaviors. The primary concern of a peoplewatcher is on
the property of physically active actions and signs of these
creatures. According to the author, these bodily activities are
the unaware actions and behaviors of their conscious and
unconscious mind which reveals their feelings, expressions
rather than articulating them through conscious words. The
signicance of understanding it may gain an insight into
understanding his problems and innermost feelings.
The sections of the book follow the order of actions
‑gestures‑signs‑behaviors. The first section completely
describes about the actions, including its types. This section
allows the reader to recognize in detail about those actions
which we do not learn, which are discovered by self, which are
to be taught, which are acquired unknowingly by companions
and other various ways.
The sections from 2 to 8 describe the different forms of gestures
such as gestures of incidence, expressions; those which has
the characters of mimicking, schematic to symbolic, technical
and coded gestures. Further, the other miscellaneous gestures
are portrayed on variants, which have multi‑meaning, which
are used as alternatives to words, hybrid to compound and
residual in nature.
The rest sections from 9 to 61 have a broader description on the
various behaviors of humans in the form of observable diverse
signs/signals, displays, behaviors, and activities/actions. In this
section, each content of these behaviors are been elaborately
discussed and are interpreted as “tie signs.” The valuable
effort of the author in each section highlights his enormous
knowledge and keen observations which can be considered as
a gift to behavioral science.
People Watching: An Apt Guide to Human Body Language and
Behavior
Author : Desmond Morris
Year of publication : 2002
Edition : Second edition (2002)
ISBN : 9780099429784
Publisher : Vintage Books, London
Soft Cover : 526 pages
Price : Rs. 599/‑
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Book Review
Annals of Indian Psychiatry ¦ Volume XX ¦ Issue XX ¦ Month 2019
2
Above all, the attention‑grabbing segment of the book lies
in the last two sections, one being the guidelines to human
survival and other being accountability to the adult matured
participation for the future. The section of 62 represents the
guidelines of how a human can try to adopt himself for the
intention of prolonging his healthy age and lifespan. Few of
them are summarized as follows:
a. Consume life materialistically, never put off and never
think that its too late
b. Adapt to the shifting demands of the environment, be
ready to produce newer combinations
c. Stay physically young and active; handle the each stage
of life healthily
d. Sustain enthusiasm and optimism throughout the life
e. Have a regular physical exercise with a pure pleasure
f. Lead a calm temperament, easy going, relaxed, and
emotionally stabled life
g. Have a passionate interest in any leisure pursuit
h. Live in the present and consider the future
i. Be self‑disciplined; stay amused with a sense of humor.
The author Desmond Morris tries to express his dream of
“future assigned works for the human species,” in the last
section of the book. He expects in the future years, human’s
liveliness with an adult matured role should be found in the
gene modication eld, crossing the needs of security and
comfort, upgrading with the modern skills in the elds of
medicine, politics, economics and technology and so on. The
author ends the section with a notation of “whatever we the
humans undeniably think/thought to do in the future has hardly
begun.” This appealing line illustrates the disorderliness of
human mankind towards his future.
In the nutshell, the book “People watching” is a cognitive
treat for those who are interested in the “human behavioural
science” and its related eld. The author Desmond Morris
and his areas of researches give consent to the curious reader
to know more about him and his works. The book “People
watching” has generated and disclosed the fundamental,
meticulous knowledge about the human actions, his gestures,
signs, and behaviors in the form of “body language.” Everyone
look at these body languages. Some do it as voyeur. However,
its only the “people watcher” observes these body languages
remarkably in him and others. It is him who make note of
these observations and tries to understand and if possible
implicate them through a study. He thinks and works on why
and how these body languages aroused. The book aims at these
observations as researched by the author himself and expects
a people watcher to follow his path. The book is a novel of
these essences and has recommendable keys for perceiving
facts about human body language/behavior, understanding his
hidden/masked emotions or feelings. The book concentrates on
the prime feature of an animal, i.e., being physically active. It
hurls the light on how these human’s physical actions become
gestures and how these gestures transmit messages as signs
and behaviors. These activities are unaware revealing factors
which represent their inner psyche. The book highlights these
representations and reections of human body language and
predicts these interactions as human behavior. The study on
these can forecast a condent, critical, and notable thinking
in a “people watcher.” The book has rapid cues to gain these
forecast. These scrutinized forecasts offers a “people watcher”
to understand the study object and can develop the ability to
differentiate between normal and abnormal body language.
The book also offers a brief note on preventive guidelines for
a healthy prolonged life, which grants a policy for humans to
perform their evolutionary humanity and humility in a healthy
way. As rightly said by one of its reviewer, the book can be
literally considered as a “body language bible.”
“Anger may ‘leak out’ through a clenched st or in a tensed
posture” (Paul Ekman and Wallace Friesen in 1969). “When
lips become silent, the fingertips chatter those words”
(Sigmund Freud). These quotes show the importance of
the clinical implications of human body language (signs,
gestures, signs, and behaviors), which provides an insight
into understanding the innermost problems and emotions.
The guidelines in the book “people watching” offer a serious
note of assessing these human body language both as the
subjective and an objective approach. As said earlier, the
book and its content represent the unaware actions and
behaviors of the conscious and unconscious mind of human;
it is reflected through their body language. These body
languages in the book can be grouped under normal and
abnormal conditions with a boundary of individual, social, and
cultural involvement. Consider a patient of acute psychosis or
major depression of mood disorders, where bodily behaviors
and psychomotor activities are increased and decreased,
respectively. Their body languages itself help to diagnose
their imbalanced psyche. A thorough knowledge on these
human body language and behaviors helps to design the
management of his problems which were caused by affected
emotions. These can be examined during mental status and
various psychological assessments. The book throws light
on both normal and abnormal body languages that can be
empirically analyzed. An action of “temper tantrums” by
Figure 1: Desmond Morris (1928 ‑ Present) (Source: Wikipedia)
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Book Review
Annals of Indian Psychiatry ¦ Volume XX ¦ Issue XX ¦ Month 2019 3
a young child of performing in contrast of controlling or
managing an impulse of distress, falls into a type of defence
mechanism called “acting out.” The impulse of this distress
was a demand of child’s inner psyche executed by its outer
body language. In the disorders associated with “personality,”
a variety of physical actions and behaviors can be observed in
the subjects who represent a range of their unconscious wishes,
thoughts, impulses, and emotions through their gestures and
behaviors both individually and in publicly. Effects of drug
abuse can be seen in abnormal behaviors and actions. With the
help of these body language, a “people watcher” (researchers)
in the eld of psychology and psychiatry, several studies can
be conducted. As these elds purely depend on the study
of mental and psychic features and as the body languages
reects these features, the book “People watching” may
provide a basic platform in setting up various researches. For
instance based on these observations, theories like “emergency
reactions,” “Acute stress response” have been experimented
and recognized. These above few clinical applications may
be the suggesting examples for a researcher and may be the
fullling dreams of the author Desmond Morris himself
dreamt as the “future projects for human mankind.” For this
fulllment, the book may provide a platform for this evolution
as modern science and generation expects.
Acknowledgment
The credit goes to Desmond Morris, who have worked with
enormous determination and eldwork in publishing his work
“Peoplewatching.” The constant support of Dr. Prasanna N Rao
Professor and Principal; Dr. Suhas Kumar Shetty, Professor
and Head; Dr. Savitha HP, Associate Professor; from the
Department of Manovigyan evum Manasaroga (Ayurveda
Psychology and Psychiatry) of SDM College of Ayurveda,
Hassan are acknowledged with gratitude.
Govardhan Belaguli
Department of Manovigyan Evum Manasa Roga (Ayurveda Psychology and
Psychiatry), Sri Dharmasthala Manjunatheshwara College of Ayurveda and
Hospital, Hassan, Karnataka, India.
E‑mail: gbelaguli123@gmail.com
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How to cite this article: Belaguli G. People watching: An apt guide to human
body language and behavior. Ann Indian Psychiatry 0;0:0.
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