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Year : 2019  |  Volume : 3  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 74-76

People watching: An Apt guide to human body language and behavior

Department of Manovigyan Evum Manasa Roga (Ayurveda Psychology and Psychiatry), Sri Dharmasthala Manjunatheshwara College of Ayurveda and Hospital, Hassan, Karnataka, India

Date of Web Publication24-May-2019

Correspondence Address:
Govardhan Belaguli
Department of Manovigyan Evum Manasa Roga (Ayurveda Psychology and Psychiatry), Sri Dharmasthala Manjunatheshwara College of Ayurveda and Hospital, Hassan, Karnataka
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/aip.aip_53_18

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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 2019;3:74-6

How to cite this URL:
Belaguli G. People watching: An Apt guide to human body language and behavior. Ann Indian Psychiatry [serial online] 2019 [cited 2022 Nov 26];3:74-6. Available from: https://www.anip.co.in/text.asp?2019/3/1/74/251362

Author : Desmond Morris

Year of publication : 2002

Edition : Second edition (2002)

ISBN : 9780099429784

Publisher : Vintage Books, London

Soft Cover : 526 pages

Price : Rs. 599/-

Desmond Morris [Figure 1] has his scrutinized footprints in the field 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 scientific 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 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.
Figure 1: Desmond Morris (1928 - Present) (Source: Wikipedia)

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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 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 a peeper, but a serious student of human behavior. 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 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 significance 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.

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:

  1. Consume life materialistically, never put off and never think that its too late
  2. Adapt to the shifting demands of the environment, be ready to produce newer combinations
  3. Stay physically young and active; handle the each stage of life healthily
  4. Sustain enthusiasm and optimism throughout the life
  5. Have a regular physical exercise with a pure pleasure
  6. Lead a calm temperament, easy going, relaxed, and emotionally stabled life
  7. Have a passionate interest in any leisure pursuit
  8. Live in the present and consider the future
  9. 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 modification field, crossing the needs of security and comfort, upgrading with the modern skills in the fields 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 field. 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 reflections of human body language and predicts these interactions as human behavior. The study on these can forecast a confident, 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 fist 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 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 field of psychology and psychiatry, several studies can be conducted. As these fields purely depend on the study of mental and psychic features and as the body languages reflects 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 fulfilling dreams of the author Desmond Morris himself dreamt as the “future projects for human mankind.” For this fulfillment, the book may provide a platform for this evolution as modern science and generation expects.


The credit goes to Desmond Morris, who have worked with enormous determination and fieldwork 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.


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