Project Overview

Dialects of the Body: Concealing and Revealing Emotion and Power in US and Asian Cultures

Faculty Sponsor

Carrie Keating (




Cultural misunderstandings due to flawed language translation are common and better studied than those produced by misinterpretations of body language. Yet misunderstood dialects of body ‘talk’ can have serious consequences. The mistranslation of body language between West and East can set government and business negotiations well off-course when smiles and nods are mistaken in the West as signaling agreement rather than polite dismissal in the East. Missing subtle forms of rebuke can be more ominous: few Western diplomats or journalists sensed the understated, nonverbal charismatic power of the young Osama bin Laden as he rose to lead one of the world’s premier terrorist organizations (Randal, 2004). Former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein is reported to have disbelieved the US President’s envoy sent to warn him of an impending US attack; despite her direct verbal statement, his ‘read’ of the woman’s body language was that the US Commander and Chief was not serious. Thus, misattributions of intent from culturally-shaped habits of the body occur in instances from the mundane to the dire. In most cases, what goes missing seems to be an understanding of the match between cultural values and body expressivity (Matsumoto & Hwang, 2017). As part of an on-going research program, two summer projects are aimed at deciphering the fit of these values with elements of nonverbal displays in US, Vietnamese, Chinese, and Korean citizens and leaders. Ultimately, I hope to identify the nonverbal patterns of charismatic leadership across and within cultures.

Student Qualifications

Required: Knowledge of/familiarity with psychological research methods, coding of nonverbal behavior, PsycInfo, Excel, SPSS, iMovie.
Helpful: familiarity with cultures in addition to the US: i.e., Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean culture and/or language.

Number of Student Researchers

2 students

Project Length

8-10 weeks

Applications open on 01/05/2018 and close on 02/05/2018

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If you have questions, please contact Karyn Belanger (