Something in the way you move: Body language ‘signature’ can reveal personality traits, study says

© Shannon Stapleton
Personality traits are all concealed within our body language, a study has found. Apparently we all have an individual ‘movement signature’ – a fact that opens up the potential for new methods of diagnosing mental health conditions.

The study conducted by British, French and Italian scientists at the University of Bristol, Montpelier University, and the University of Naples Federico II, revolves around the individual motor signature (IMS), which each of us possesses. It builds on the assumption that movement and personality traits correlate.

"Although human movement has been well studied, what is far less well understood is the differences each of us displays when we move - whether it is faster, or lighter, or smoother for example,” University of Exeter Professor Krasimira Tsaneva-Atanasova, who specializes in Mathematics and Healthcare, says.

Anything from the smoothness of a person’s walk to the weight they place in their stride can come into play here.

The first test of these correlations between movement and psychological traits was achieved with a mirror game, where the two individuals sat across from each other, mimicking each other’s movements. It was discovered that those who had similar movements displayed overall similar behavior, but also had greater chances of working together on a collective task or in basic interactions.

"This study shows that people who move in a certain way, will also react in similar ways when they are performing joint tasks. Essentially, our movements give an insight into our inherent personality traits,” Tsaneva-Atanasova continues.

"What we demonstrate is that people typically want to react and interact with people who are similar to themselves. But what our study also shows is that movement gives an indication of a person's behavioral characteristics. This could therefore be used in the future to help diagnose patients with certain conditions by studying how they move and react to others."

There are various movements and ticks that could well be indicative of mental disorders. Finding out what they are could give an important insight into diagnosing and treating the conditions.

For instance, people with schizophrenia and autism could be diagnosed by performing a simple tactile task, Tsaneva-Atanasova added. This promises to be much easier and more pleasant than lying in CT scanners.

“It could help people with social phobias become more interactive,” said Tsaneva-Atanasova.

The study is published in the Royal Society journal Interface.