Former FBI Agent Breaks Down Gangsters Body Language

“We humans are so sensitive to nonverbals that we’re actually seduced by them and we don’t even understand why.” That’s what former FBI agent and body language expert Joe Navarro has to say about how we communicate with our body language. In a video for Wired, Navarro breaks down what the body language of mobsters and gangsters is saying in a collection of photographs.

The photos were from the 1920s and 1930s. Navarro talks about many notorious characters, including Bugsy Siegel, John Dillinger, Lucky Luciano, and Mickey Cohen. Navarro looks at a number of indicators, starting with the “glabella”—the smooth part of the forehead above and between the eyebrows. This is the same area that even infants will focus on to get an indication of how a person is feeling. An indicator of insecurity is the “self-hug” which shows that the person isn’t as tough as they portray themselves. Another sign to look for is ventilating, where we try to let out some heat, often by pulling up shoes. Pinching your nose, lip compression, and furrowed glabella all reveal discomfort and even fear.

For Navarro, reading body language is just a way of life. “To the average person, this would seem like hard work, but it really becomes like software running in the background,” explains Navarro. “I don’t think about it, it’s just something that I’m constantly doing.” Like so many things, mastering the ability to read someone’s body language is something that just takes practice. But with a little effort, you’ll be able to pick up on all the clues people are trying so hard to hide. “Invariably we give things away,” notes Navarro. You just need to know how to read the subtle signs that they’re giving something away.

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