01.10.14

Christie’s Body Language Suggests He Didn’t Believe What He Said

At his runaway press conference Thursday, the New Jersey governor said many thousands of words that seemed sincere—but his gestures didn’t back them up.

Who are the voters of New Jersey going to believe—Chris Christie or their own lying eyes?

That is the central question suggested by Gonzaga University anthropologist David B. Givens, director of the Center for Nonverbal Studies in Spokane, Washington, who analyzed the New Jersey governor’s nonverbal performance at Thursday’s 107-minute-long apology press conference.

“While his words and verbal commentary seemed impressive and sincerely true, his body curiously didn't seem to stand behind the words,” said Givens, an expert in primate social behavior who has been scrutinizing the body language of politicians since 1988. He is also author of The Nonverbal Dictionary, an influential volume in the field. “Ordinarily quite demonstrative in body language, Christie's body was visibly quiet at the news conference, and didn't back up the content of his spoken remarks,” Givens went on, providing his analysis at the request of The Daily Beast.

“The body was passive this time, rather more motionless than usual, as if unwilling to get behind him and back up his claims of innocence. His body just didn't show up to support him. In particular, his hand gestures, which are usually frequent and forceful, were just not as visible. Quiet, motionless hands have been found to be key indicators of deception, and Christie's hands were noticeably unmoving, as if he seemed unconvinced by his own words.”

That is bad news for Christie, who repeatedly professed that he was “humiliated,” “heartbroken,” and “sad” about what he described as lies by aides who took it upon themselves to cause politically vengeful traffic havoc on the George Washington Bridge and in Fort Lee, N.J., whose Democratic mayor declined to endorse the Republican governor for reelection last fall.

“His tone of voice, too, was audibly less forceful than it normally is,” Givens continued.  “He also dropped his eyes downward at the end of his verbal sentences, another sign of emotional guilt and lack of conviction. So, while his words seemed convincing, his body appeared unconvinced, as if unwilling to support him, and his overall body language was flat, an indication that emotionally, perhaps, he didn't believe in what he himself was saying. Finally, the nearly two hours of verbal testimony seemed to show that ‘he doth protest too much,’ yet another nonverbal sign of dubious truth-telling.”