Donald Trump's body language gives an insight to his behaviour on inauguration day

'Smiling is an appeasement gesture signalling you are not a threat. But Trump wants to convey that he is a threat' 

Will Worley@willrworley
Saturday 21 January 2017 16:07
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Donald Trump displays the 'zipped smile'
Donald Trump displays the 'zipped smile'

Donald Trump’s divisive rhetoric has sparked much discussion, but less scrutinised has been his distinctive body language.

The stiff protocols and formalities of inauguration day provided a very public platform for the behaviour of Mr Trump, and those around him, to be examined.

Analysis of the body language on the day has also reinforced a number of widespread perceptions about Mr Trump, his wife and the Obamas.

According to behavioural psychologist Dr Peter Collett, there are four main body language traits which Mr Trump exhibits through his trademark facial expressions.

The first is the 'alpha male' face, Dr Collett told Sky News. This tends to be a dominant expression of the President and is characterised by the absence of smiling, lowered eyebrows and narrowed eyes.

“Smiling is an appeasement gesture signalling you are not a threat. But Trump wants to convey that he is a threat,” Dr Collet said.

The 'alpha male' face

Mr Trump also exhibits a jutted chin, Dr Collett said, a trait typical in men with more testosterone.

This pose is associated with people who believe they should be in charge.

Similarly, the ‘zipped smile’ makes his mouth seem bigger, a common characteristic of senior executives, according to Dr Collett.

But Dr Collett said one of Mr Trump’s habits, in which he hides his teeth, inadvertently reveals vulnerability: the puckered chin, drawn into his neck, is an instinctive reaction to a perceived attack, as if he is preparing to be punched.

During the President’s inauguration, many of these trademark facial expressions were absent – as was smiling.

However, another highly recognisable characteristic of Mr Trump are his hand movements.

These did play a significant role in his first speech as president, in particular his trademark ‘air pinch’, with the thumb and forefinger.

Body language expert Carol Kinsey Goman wrote in Forbes that this movement “signals precision and control”.

“And when he then exploded it into an open-hand, fingers spread gesture and hand chop, it sent an effective signal that he was ready to take that certainty into action," she said.

Political psychology scholar Patrick A. Stewart said: “I believe that a good deal of Trump's allure comes from his ability to use his hand-and-arm movements, including his various illustrators, so effectively.”

However, other body language displayed by Mr Trump on inauguration day reflected less well on the new President.

Many experts commented on his conduct, albeit subtle, with Melania, when meeting the Obamas.

“'It's interesting that Trump got out of the car and came up the stairs and shook hands instead of helping his wife out of the car, waiting for her, or even looking back for her,” another body language expert, Patti Wood, told the Mail Online.

Many observers have noted that he displays little affection for his wife in public, and is often warmer around other people.

This behaviour contrasted starkly with the Obamas, who hugged Ms Trump, apparently recognising her nervousness, and escorted her inside the building.

Donald Trump arrives at the White House

Barack Obama also quickly dealt with a situation which could have caused potential embarrassment for his wife, when she was unexpectedly given a gift by Ms Trump and didn’t know where to put it.

He took the gift from Ms Obama and put it away himself, in an act that was said to reflect their closeness.

However, for all of Mr Trump’s disparaging rhetoric about Mr Obama, there are strong indications he respects him.

Ms Wood told the Mail that Mr Trump’s was “at ease when he is greeting Obama" because his face was relaxed and open.

“This is an indication of respect, and shows that he has no desire to dominate,” Ms Wood said.

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