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The Quad: How to use your body language to your advantage in bonding with others

(Clara Vamvulescu/Daily Bruin)

By Hanna Chea

Sept. 24, 2019 10:03 p.m.

It’s that time of year which simultaneously harbors the most socially active and socially awkward moments for UCLA students: zero week.

Whether you’re an incoming freshman, returning student or a new transfer, the start of the school year marks a season of meeting new people or catching up with those you haven’t seen since the end of spring quarter’s brutal finals week.

This period of socializing can be an exhausting, often times stressful, experience. With a little over 31,000 undergraduate students, it’s easy to feel lost and lonely during a time when it’s important to find the right friends for you.

While making friends can be a difficult process, there are simple changes that can be made in order to increase your approachability and make social interactions easier: using the right body language.

Tips for appearing more approachable amid these social situations can be improved by reexamining the simple gestures of the body. The nonverbal language of the eyes, mouth, stance and gestures of any Bruin are areas that can make or break the perception of approachability.

Eye contact is one of the most influential aspects of body language which can conduct the manner in which someone is perceived. In fact, the importance of eye contact is deeply rooted within humans from birth.

According to 2002 study from MIT, infants paid more attention to adults who approached them with open eyes compared to a closed-eye approach, and infants also followed the gaze rather than the overall head movements of the adult they were interacting with.

In the college world and beyond, eye contact can be used to help those you meet remember your words and actions.

In a study conducted by the University of Wolverhampton, subjects who maintained eye contact for 30% of the duration of a video call remembered significantly more details of the video presentation compared to subjects who did not maintain eye contact at all. The study concluded that making eye contact acts as an arousal stimulus, increasing the focus of those you are talking to and enhancing the memories from that conversation.

Eye contact can not only be used to maintain the attention of your counterpart, but it can also be used to enhance one simple yet universally desired concept: to be liked by others.

Researchers at the University of Aberdeen experimented with two computer-generated photos of identical faces with exception to the eyes – one photo pictured the eyes looking at the camera while the other pictured an averted gaze. Upon asking hundreds of undergraduate students at the university to pick which person seemed more likable and physically attractive, the face making eye contact with the camera was chosen as both more attractive and more likable.

Coupled with the approachability of eye contact can be that of a smile. Smiling while interacting with others can trigger emotional contagion – a phenomenon occurring when individuals tend to feel and express the emotions conveyed by those around them.

Emotional contagion results from automatic nonverbal mimicry – the action of unconsciously mimicking the nonverbal actions of those you are interacting with –hence the reason why one may feel happier being around another who is smiling and energetic, or why others may be deemed a buzzkill if they seem unamused or dejected.

Joshua Jung, a second-year neuroscience student, confirms this phenomenon when asked to describe what makes a person approachable.

“For me, it’s their body language and if they’re smiling or not. Someone that is smiling is much easier to approach than someone who is not. Also, if the person’s body language indicates that they’re uncomfortable, it’s usually harder to approach them,” Jung said. “It’s usually easier to communicate with someone who is excited to be in the environment than someone who is not.”

Appearing uncomfortable, according to Jung, can include looking down, keeping your hands in your pockets or shifting. Collectively, such actions make up the overall stance and posture of the person.

When it comes to stance, appearing more confident and open to others is key in creating a more approachable demeanor. Bad posture, including slouching, crossing the arms or turning away from a person, can communicate discomfort, hostility, boredom or disengagement – impressions that can make a person seem unapproachable.

“If they look uncomfortable, I wouldn’t want to potentially make them more uncomfortable when their body language indicates that they might not want to talk or they don’t really vibe with the environment at all,” Jung said.

According to research conducted at the University of Northern Iowa, sitting or standing straight with your head raised, facing the person you are talking to and standing with feet apart with your palms facing outward can create a composed, approachable and trustworthy impression.

Changing your stance into a more confident pose can also influence your own self-confidence. Power posing is described as an expansive posture, such as keeping the arms outstretched, legs apart and back straight.

A study conducted by Amy Cuddy and her colleagues at Harvard University found that power posing for one to two minutes before interacting with others triggered a hormonal response which left subjects feeling more powerful and confident and performing better in mock interviews and interactions.

Sam Cho, a second-year pre-computer science student, said courage and openness are important factors in determining whether someone seems approachable or not.

“I would say that an open posture definitely helps people seem approachable,” Cho said. “I think when they try to reach out to you first, it makes them a little bit more approachable. The intent loosens the awkwardness. I actually appreciate it a lot when they approach me first. It requires a lot of courage to do that.”

As the start of the school year dawns on Bruins both new and old, remembering the little tricks for changing up your body language can be the key to leaving a good impression. A positive impression is a lasting impression, thus making it easier to be remembered by the new Bruins you meet and create a new network of friendships at UCLA.

Flashing a bright smile to a suitemate or dedicating a minute in the bathroom to strike a power pose before the day starts are great ways to improve your approachability and form the lifelong friendships that begin in college.

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Hanna Chea
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