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Aspies and the misrepresentation of their own body language

Discussion in 'Friends, Family & Social Skills' started by King_Oni, May 21, 2014.

  1. King_Oni

    King_Oni Well-Known Member V.I.P Member

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    So... topic about... well, it says on the tin what it's about.

    But I should elaborate a bit more from a personal experience.

    It is often said that we don't understand body language presented by others, and that might be a fair claim. However, what I feel to see with any interaction with a healthcare professional is that there's an assumption that just because I don't understand someone else's body language, my own body language couldn't be wrong in any possible way.

    If anything, I think that body language is more ambiguous than verbal language.

    A few years back I had an assessment and while I was giving out a lot of personal information towards this psychologist, he still stated that I had a closed body language. Closed as in; my arms across in front of me. Apparently this is a cue in body language to underline that someone is closed and reluctant to share information. The fact that this person ended up writing 10 pages in about an hour on me... I'm probably missing out on something.

    So eventually push came to shove (proverbially speaking) and he called me out on it. To where I replied "how can you assume that my understanding of body language is the same as everyone else?". I was retorted with a blank stare. I think it hit him where it hurts.

    This was way before I got my diagnosis, though I think this comment made him think that I might be on the spectrum, since... you know, body language and failing to notice social cues is often associated with autism.

    Up until that day (and by that day I was well in my late 20's already) I never ever wondered or worried about body language as a concept. So with that, I might not have the faintest clue what exactly he meant... and perhaps because of my odd relationship with "universal body language" I might have evoked reactions with certain people in the past.

    So with that it often makes me wonder because I didn't (and still not really) have a clue on how body language works for me, how it translates to understanding body language in general. I hardly recognize these cues... and honestly I don't have the desire to, since having both spoken information and body language telling me something might be an information overload. I deal better with written communication since that takes out the physical component.for a large part.

    What's worrisome about this about failing to understand body language, especially when it comes to "acting the right way" is that some people will still automatically assume that your body language tells something and the fact that body language might be a foreign language to some (or some just had terrible training and aren't as adept in it) just seems odd.

    All the times I had run ins with the authorities in my area because body language might give off a wrong signal... I mean, it's good they are trained in it, but it's quite a nuisance.

    On a somewhat related, albeit dystopian note (it might create some paranoid feelings with some, so don't put to much weight on it). Surveillance and gathering information on citizens is a big thing. However, all that data is too much for people to check. I mean, even the NSA can't check up on all the information they gather just by manual labor. So computers screen this based on word searches and algorithms. CCTV systems (and drones) are a thing and it wouldn't surprise me if eventually even human behavior will be digitized so a computer can recognize "suspect behavior". But these algorithms will most likely be based upon someone who understands and expresses normal body language. Having unpredictable behavior is one of those things a computer can't work with. I guess I feel somewhat concerned that just based on that I expect a lot more run-ins with the law.
     
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  2. Judge

    Judge Well-Known Member V.I.P Member

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    It's good that you are at least aware of such dynamics. I suppose the real challenge for you is ultimately your ability to mitigate your own behavior under such stress. Easier said than done, I'm sure.

    However on either side of the pond I think it's reasonable to conclude that local law enforcement is more likely to respond harshly to any unpredictable behavior in real time in general. With or without sophisticated security protocols. Scary stuff, for sure.

    Just being around TSA officials makes me nervous...even when I know I haven't done anything wrong. But the system wasn't designed to accommodate people like me and I know it...and have no real practical answers for such scenarios.
     
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  3. King_Oni

    King_Oni Well-Known Member V.I.P Member

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    Unpredictable behavior probably can go a few ways. There's unpredictable in being aggressive, though there's also unpredictable in being atypical. Perhaps the latter is predictable, as long as you know the person a bit better.
     
  4. Judge

    Judge Well-Known Member V.I.P Member

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    Good point. It depends on the circumstances. However neither is good IMO.

    Being perceived as aggressive can get you hurt or killed on the spot.

    Being "atypical" might land you as what is called here "a person of interest" in the course of a criminal investigation. Not immediately life threatening, but it can make one's life miserable if the authorities come down on you in such a manner without all the facts. It also depends on the jurisdiction of authorities. Locals may know of you, where federals may be utterly indifferent.
     
    Last edited: May 21, 2014
  5. King_Oni

    King_Oni Well-Known Member V.I.P Member

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    Heh, perhaps here people are better protected towards being being perceived as "suspect" and under constant surveillance. Also, the times there was a deadly incident with law enforcement here is pretty low in general. So perhaps it's good to be on this side of the pond. I recall that even one time someone who lunged at the cops with an axe, they did their best to incapacitate not to kill... think a cop even got injured. There's less of a "shoot to kill" mentality by law enforcement here perhaps.

    Quite recently there's been a lot of vandalism and theft of statues in my city and I'm one of those people who goes out at night for a walk quite often (with a friend usually). We run into quite a few policecars during the night, since I assume they're patrolling a bit more to see any suspect behavior that can lead to the ones responsible for theft. Generally I don't have a problem with it, nor do I feel that bad if they stop and question me. What probably gets to me is that I've had situations where I had to explain myself to why I was out on the street at 4 in the morning. I mean, it's not like there's a curfew. And even when explaining it, it ends in a condescending tone.

    But perhaps I'm just bothered by a lack of positive attitude by law enforcement as well...them being condescending and just overall coming across as a bit hostile.
     
  6. AgentPalpatine

    AgentPalpatine Well-Known Member

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    Without addressing the thoughts later in your post (and the replies), I would have to agree with you on the body language. It's wildly ambiguous, but oddly enough, it's often more reliable. There's a whole field of study on body language, and from what I understand, it's often more reliable (ie, closer to the truth) than verbal language. There might be a bias in the published material, since the people who really popularized the studies were mostly dealing with cases where lying was expected.

    The problem is that body language changes completely based on cultural and situational factors. In some cultures (down to some corporate cultures), one does not use the same body language to communicate with a perceived superior as a perceived peer, let alone an outsider. I've dealt with people from different types of corporate cultures, and the body language is all different. And that's before you run into people who might be tired, stressed, etc.
     
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  7. Judge

    Judge Well-Known Member V.I.P Member

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    Nothing I haven't heard or seen before right here. Can't blame ya either. I've known a number of people (and kin) in law enforcement over the years. To me there are two kinds of law enforcers:

    An overwhelming majority, who go strictly "by the book" which may include a lot of generalized profiling. And the few, who rely on their own experience in applying great discretion over situations they encounter. (Probably the only thing that bridges the two in such a situation locally is the ability to identify a tourist gambling from a local.)

    Simply put, the odds are overwhelming that you'll be approached by the former- not the latter. You are being profiled on a much-generalized premise that your intent for being out on the street at such an hour is questionable. From their perspective they are probably relying on conservative judgments to save lives in the absence of more information.

    And the logistics aren't likely to change either. More experienced officers are inherently fewer in number. And less likely to be doing any graveyard shifts due to seniority. The few experienced officers volunteering to work graveyard, may reflect that they "like the action". Which probably bodes poorly for your concerns.

    Something to ponder at those late hours...that it could be as risky for you as it is for them to be on the same street. It sucks, but it is what it is...
     
    Last edited: May 21, 2014
  8. gonzerd

    gonzerd Stranger V.I.P Member

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    Similar situation here. When I was going through the tests and talks for my eventual diagnosis, it was noted I seem to smile a lot, which was out of line with my depressiveness. I knew I hadn't been getting through to psychologists and the likes who came before. You know, that feeling of despair you get when you've been spilling your guts for two hours and then they send you of saying everything will be fine, while actually you're contemplating if that window would be up high enough to jump out of. I'm tempted to think now that a big part of this not getting through was caused by body language, and the misinterpretation of it.

    But this team of psychologists did ask about it which was the first time body language was actually mentioned to me. We went on about it for quite a while, because it was an important factor, but they did understand straight away. It seems like such a basic thing to talk about now. The mere fact that none that came before made even the slightest notion of it makes me question their entire training and education.

    The thing for me is that I tend to smile when I get nervous in social situations or even dangerous situations. It can confuse a mugger if his potential victim actually starts smiling and answering demands as if they were questions from some lost tourist looking for the museum, or where the prostitutes are (that used to be a classic in my old neighborhood). "I'm sorry I won't be able to help you with that sir, these things you want happen to be mine, and I will need them later on. Surely you must understand I can't just give those away."
    I used to smile in pretty much any social situation anyway, as I was pretty much always nervous. It's just the face my cramping muscles make. Since then I've tried to change that into a more serious expression, but it's still a problem. Part of it cause might also be some kind of conditioning early on in life, to always be nice and friendly or so, but that's another set of issues.

    Very worrisome. Extremely worrisome even. Interpreting body language is becoming more and more part of the rules of how law enforcement is conducted and it feels to me as a very dangerous evolution. Especially if it goes a step further and just left over to algorithms based on the supposed behaviour of the general population. I said it before in a previous post about something else, it's statistics, and statistics are a gamble. It's far too ambiguous to be used in justice, where a simple mistake can destroy lives. The way it stands now it feels like a 21st century redo of phrenology.
    Past years there have been a few high profile murder cases here, which I tried to follow, and the amount of time and press given to body language was very scary. Just to see how much people seem to conclude from a simple expression (which is the wrong word, it's just a face, in a way it's the exact opposite of expression.), how it sways public opinion, spurred on by prosecutors who focus more on body language and profiling than actual facts and evidence...

    I've had quite a few run ins with the law too because of it. Usually just for walking or looking out of place or a bit strange. It's taken much of the fun out of being outside over the years. I just can't be at ease. Whenever I see one of those uniformed authority figures I get rather nervous and try to act as inconspicuous and normal as possible. I guess they did their job well. One more fearful citizen afraid to be.

    It's not just law enforcement of course. The notion of body language is on the rise, and more people start to actively interpret it, or look into it, while being unaware of how ambigious it actually is.
    Basic thing, say the pictures of expressions which are in the psychology books, how do they actually know that was what those people were feeling as the photo were taken? Did they ask the person to be happy and then take the picture or do they ask to look happy, even if they aren't?
     
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  9. Judge

    Judge Well-Known Member V.I.P Member

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    It does bother me that I become acutely aware of my own body language and speech when under the direct observation of security personnel. Much more taxing than the usual self-consciousness of being surrounded by NTs.

    Wondering, "Do I appear guilty over whatever it is that I didn't do?" :eek:
     
  10. gonzerd

    gonzerd Stranger V.I.P Member

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    There's been a report about this phenomenon in the police force here. I'll see if I can find it. I seem to recall it says pretty much that same thing. Many officers who'd go straight by the book and not rely on any kind of personal judgement, and a few more experienced one's relying on personal experience and discretion. The way they looked at possible psychological issues like ASD or the likes was divided in pretty much the same way. A big part of the force not taking it into account whatsoever, with a more experienced group who would.
     
  11. Vanilla

    Vanilla Your friendly neighbourhood hedgehog V.I.P Member

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    As much as I've learned about reading, and displaying, body language, I feel I slip up every now and then. Sometimes, I recognise a potential slip up mid-speech, and because of the slip up, I may display further slip-ups, as I am worried about that slip-up, while I'm still talking.

    Most people don't pull me up on it, but I can usually confirm my thoughts, by watching their face, and seeing if they seemed confused, or judgemental; though this doesn't seem to happen too often, as I put quite a lot of energy in to appearing "normal". These days it's a little more natural for me, but I still have my moments.

    My sister is probably the only one who does pull me up on it. I know she's gotten frustrated, or laughed, when I display the wrong emotion. One example, is when she bought a whole bunch of coat hangers, and asked where they had all gone. I had anticipated that someone would take them (not me of course - she simply made a big deal beforehand how they were hers, and no one should touch them, but I knew that someone was taking them beforehand, as mine had gone missing too). Unfortunately, I was caught off guard, and showed my knowledge of this, in a smile. This didn't go down well, as I told her it wasn't me, while I was smiling, which made me appear as though I was lying. It was like watching a car crash in slow motion. I could see it happening as it did, but couldn't stop the wreck in time.

    I don't mind so much displaying the wrong emotions with strangers, as I'm not too fazed by the opinions of most people, but it does annoy me when it's my sister, as she always gives me a hard time about it, and isn't always willing to accept my version of the truth.
     
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  12. Judge

    Judge Well-Known Member V.I.P Member

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    When I look at this thread I'm playing back an experience I had in the last time I took a commercial airflight to visit my cousin. I hadn't flown since well before 9/11 and all the security measures were all new- and somewhat foreign to me. When leaving my cousin stuffed some snacks left over from Christmas into my bag. I didn't think anything about them...but when they got x-rayed the TSA took me out of line to examine my bag. Oh man...I can't tell you what was going through my mind. And simultaneously wondered how I must have appeared to the TSA. I guess in hindsight I looked exactly as I felt- bewildered and surprised. Ignorance was blissful in that situation.

    However I'm wondering with what I know about my own potential responses now if this would help me or hinder me?
     
  13. Loomis

    Loomis Well-Known Member

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    Some body language is clear as a bell even to aspies. If someone gives you the finger or shakes their fist at you there is no ambiguity. It is the subtle stuff that eludes us.

    I have read that folding your arms in front of you says I want you to keep your distance. If I stand or sit with my palms up it means I am open and if I make myself big by spreading out and taking up as much space as I can I am being dominant. All of this seems logical and that is the point. Aspies need to understand body language using logic instead of the intuition an NT uses.

    Before I was diagnosed I deluded myself into thinking I understood body language; now I know I am greatly handicapped in understanding it so I have been working on understanding and interpreting and even projecting body language in social situations using logic and trial and error. I am optimistic I can greatly increase my competence in it.

    I have found this website to be useful:

    Using Body Language
     
  14. King_Oni

    King_Oni Well-Known Member V.I.P Member

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    The more I think about it, the weirder the notion of body language as a communication tool becomes.

    What's often said is that crossing your arms means keeping distance and often also means you're not really open and often got something to hide.

    Perhaps I have something to hide, but that would also mean that the one perceiving my body language would assume that I'm "talking" to him. Or better yet, that I have something to hide that is actually his/her business. I recall a (presumable) aspie friend of mine who usually has a smirk on his face. I'm not even going to bother wondering what he's laughing at. The most horrible stuff can happen yet he'll still have this smirk (up to the point where I once told him he has to be careful not to turn invisible like the Chesire cat)... should I get upset because he has this natural expression on him and the expression tells me something different than what society dictates us to express?

    I've been told I can be secretive over the weirdest things for extended amounts. It would also mean that if I were to have a conversation with someone who is well versed in understanding body language (like a psychologist), said professional is assuming I'm secretive about things they want and should know, rather than my brain being "elsewhere". The assumption that you and the one you're conversing with occupy the same "mental space" in terms of topic, secrecy, linguistics and whatelse might make you differ in thinking and differ in occupying the same mental plane. Communication is a 2-way thing (as I've been taught in school in my communication science classes) but that doesn't mean that I am forced to participate within the same parameters you like. Granted, if everyone would act like this, it would be a mess and mankind wouldn't achieve a lot over years... but hey, there's always someone acting like an ass in this fashion (even if it has to be me, lol). But all joking aside, communication is not mandatory.

    Yes, we're going into a totally new territory here with being absentminded or even stuff like multiple personality disorder or some kind of disassociative disorder, where people might not even occupy the same "world" as you, but quite frankly, I think that if we're playing the "you appear weird in your body language, so you are guilty until proven innocent" (since that's what law enforcement feels like when it comes to body language), we could just as well assume that someone is not "entirely with us" and that as of yet is not a crime by itself (the actions thereof might be, but absentmindedness is not an offense; and aside from failing a test to see if you're drunk, they'll send you packing and on your way home; at least here they do).

    Besides, here's something else that worries me. Even the greatest minds can make mistakes. Even a math genius can make a mistake. Why should it be assumed that body language and the interpretation has such a heavy weight and isn't open to both interpretation and expression? And better yet, it has been the result of many reports that people on the spectrum in general suck at body language (in fact, if I'm correct it's one of the criteria in the DSM), so there's an actual group of people with a neurological condition who are prone to be bad at it. Yes, they could learn, but assuming they will or have mastered it seems like a flaw at best.
     
  15. AgentPalpatine

    AgentPalpatine Well-Known Member

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    The usefulness of body language as a high-context communication tool breaks down somewhat once you get into perceived social status and power differences, and also if you're communicating between cultures.
     
  16. Judge

    Judge Well-Known Member V.I.P Member

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    Should it really come as a surprise that society's policymakers are capable of "factoring out" select segments of its own population?

    Not to me...
     
  17. Flinty

    Flinty Off Indefinite Hiatus, I Guess V.I.P Member

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    Just have to add: if I cross my arms, it's because my hands are cold. That is all. :expressionless:
     
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  18. Daniel

    Daniel Well-Known Member

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    I've begun to notice how people respond to my body language and facial expressions--took me until I was in thirties to develop an awareness of it.

    The thing I've noticed with people--neurotypicals in particular, because I haven't been around anyone on the spectrum in a long time--they take my non-verbal communication personally, when it has practically nothing to do with them. Even being aware of it, I don't have that thing that neurotypicals have, where a person's non-verbal communication is a function of the present social situation.

    I have to be careful with my posture because I have a bad back. I'm pretty sure I come off looking stiff and formal. But that's fine with me, 'cause that's a pretty accurate description! :)
     
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  19. Kari Suttle

    Kari Suttle Well-Known Member

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    I'm not really following your conversation, but i do agree with the original post about misrepresenting your own body language. Growing up someone - 9 times out of 10 my parents - would assume i was mad and comment about it only for me to say no i'm not but they would never believe me, insisting they knew me. Which hurt, of course, but that's a whole 'nother story. Even my one friend growing up agreed that sometimes i'm either hard to read or easily misread. For the longest time i just assumed people didn't really care enough to know me well enough to be able to read me, but recently i've begun to assume its probably because i don't put stock in body language much less understand it. Therefore, i dont use it well.
     
  20. Loomis

    Loomis Well-Known Member

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    My experience with other aspies is limited to about five people. Four out of these five tend to project rather flat facial expressions most of the time. I will add myself to the list because the psychologist who diagnosed me told me I had the same trait. I suspect this is learned behavior for aspies. At least in my case I know I developed this as a protective mechanism as a young adult because I was frustrated with the constant misinterpretation of my nonverbal facial expressions in my childhood. I made a decision that it is better to project very little emotion than to have to constantly deal with puzzling responses of others. This worked reasonably well until I was diagnosed.

    I no longer am satisfied to accept that there is a communication system in the social world that I recoiled from and avoided because it was inscrutable. Now that I know I am aspie and my failure to intuitively understand nonverbal communication is due to my neurological differences I am determined to break the code using observation and logic to access this hidden information transfer mechanism.

    I have zero interest in pretending to be NT or conforming to the NT culture. I do however want to use knowledge of nonverbal communication to get what I want in this world for myself and to protect myself and those I love. Why would I deprive myself of useful knowledge? We aspies have as much human worth as NTs. There are about 4% to 6% of the population with serious antisocial personality problems and most of them are NT. These nasty humans can use nonverbal communication as a weapon and I have experienced it. I choose not to continue to live unarmed.
     
    Last edited: May 22, 2014