More feelings, intentions, and emotions are communicated in nonverbal ways than in all verbal ways put together.
- Your Silent Language (Elizabeth McGough)
The study of body language isn't new, but it wasn't until 1952 that it acquired a name. That was the year that a professor at the Eastern Pennsylvania Psychiatric Institute published a book called Introduction to Kinesis. Ray Birdwhistell defined kinesis as the "systematic study of how human beings communicate through body movement and gesture". He postulated that human beings all over the world communicate with each other through similar gestures and movements despite differences in culture and meaning. His book was the beginning of serious study of body language as a legitimate scientific form. In the three decades that followed, numerous books were written about nonverbal communication, but most focused on the way that animals communicate with each other. They were written for other scientists, not laymen - at least until Desmond Morris came along. With books like The Naked Ape, Morris brought the concept of body language and kinesis came to the attention of the general public.
The whole concept of body language captured the imagination of most people. The idea that a lifted brow could convince others that you were sincere, or that you could seduce any woman by knowing the right moves was too seductive not to become popular. Psychologists entered a whole new era of analyzing family relationships by studying the silent interactions within the group, and everyone became an armchair psychologist.
As with anything when it enters the realm of the general public, it became over-simplified and generalized. You'll find dozens of references to the power of body language in pop psychology books and supermarket tabloids, usually headlined with 'How to Seduce Any Girl You Want' and 'How Your Body Language Can Make Your Boss Give You a Raise'.
There's no doubt that body language is powerful stuff - but it's not a miracle mind control device. There are obviously limits to what learning body language can do for you. It won't turn you into an instant mind reader. It won't make you popular overnight, and it won't make you a million dollars. It will, however, help you decipher those mixed signals that you sometimes get from people. It will help you recognize when someone might not be entirely truthful with you, or when someone is more interested in you than they appear to be. It will also help you to recognize the effects of your own words and actions on other people so that you can fine tune your communications to be more effective.