The Human Animal (1994–…): Season 1, Episode 1 - The Language of the Body - full transcript

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Of over a million species of animals on our planet, one species

has come to dominate all other life-forms, and altered

dramatically the face of the Earth.

It's a species that, if we remove its protective layer of clothing,

reveals a rather strange anatomy.

A species I once referred to as the Naked Ape. Physically, the human being is

a puny primate, with a vulnerable unprotected skin, with no natural weapon.

No armor, no sharp spines.

No venom, no fangs or claws.

Yet equipped with little more than an enlarged brain,



this compulsively curious creature has come to dominate the

natural world.

What is the secret of its lavish, unprecedented success?

Anatomically the human animal is unusual to say the least.

Its lack of hair is unique among primates.

Contrasting with other apes, its face has a protruding nose

whites to the eyes and lips that are turned inside out.

It's legs are long and straight and unlike any other mammal,

it walks bipedally.

The breasts of the female remain swollen throughout her

adult life, even when they're not giving milk. Again a unique feature.

There are a few surviving patches of hair including

on the tops of the heads, in the armpits and around the genitals.

The male has the largest penis of any primate.



And the human animal is the only primate that possesses rounded

fleshy buttocks. Altogether, these unique features make us

a very strange ape indeed.

And for a student of animal behavior,

even more peculiar than its anatomy, are its activities in the wild.

I'm a zoologist,

and since man is an animal, I can see no reason why my work

and also in this series, I shouldn't study this particular

species in the same way that I've studied many other animals

in the past. The secret is patient observation.

For me, the ideal method is to go out into the field and study

humans in their natural environment.
In the streets and parks,

the shops and offices, the villages and cities

to analyze their natural behavior as it happens in real life situations

all over the world.

Everywhere I go I'm struck by how similar all human beings

are to one another in all important respects.

Of course, there are many superficial differences and these

are often so impressive that we pay too much attention to them

and start treating one another as if we belong to different species

with disastrous results. But despite all our variations in costume,

ritual and belief, biologically, we're all astonishingly close

to one another.
A fact which I find very reassuring.

Back in the late 1960s.

I was sitting in this very restaurant on the island of Malta

talking to my publisher.

I drew his attention to the fact that over the other side

of the road were two men who were gesticulating in a particular way.

The way they were holding their palms to one side was

fascinating me, and he said, you know, you look at people

the way that a bird watcher looks at birds, and I said,

yeah, I suppose you could call me a man watcher.

As soon as I said, it was as if I had fired a starting gun

on a major new project.

One that was to engross me for many years to come,

and take me to over 60 different countries.

It was wildly ambitious, but I decided to make a complete

classification of all human actions, gestures, postures, expressions

all over the world.

And this was going to take a very long time.

I was going to do for actions,

what dictionary makers have done for words.

I began making huge charts naming every facial expression,

every gesticulation, every movement, every posture.

I kept at it for month after month and eight years later,

I'd completed the work and was able at last to introduce

people to the fascinating subject of human body language.

One of the first problems I encountered was that

even the simplest human action, such as the handshake, has countless variations.

Sometimes it's reduced to a mere palm touch,

as with these Maasai elders in East Africa. But in other countries,

it becomes more elaborate.
In Mali, in West Africa, the hand-shaker

briefly touches his own forearm as the palms clasp.

In Morocco, the hand shakers kiss one another's hands

at the same time as clasping them.

And in Turkey, these Kurdish farmers have taken this simple action

and converted it into what amounts to a minor ritual.

It's the local rule that they can't start bargaining until

they're shaking hands and they have to keep on doing so until

the deal is struck.

The essential feature of handshaking is that it's an egalitarian act.

Regardless of the social standing, the two people involved

are momentarily performing identical actions.

This meeting as equals that has spread around the world is

comparatively recent.
In earlier times when greeting,

it was common for the less important individuals to literally lower

themselves as a sign of respect.
In some remote parts of the world

we can still see this even today.
The Toda people of

South India still perform this body lowering ritual with

high status feet placed on low status heads.

Despite their variations,
all these greetings have one thing

in common.

They're all fine-tuned to the precise context in which they occur.

So many gestures have different meanings
in different places,

you have to be quite careful
how you use your hands

when you're in a market place in a foreign country.

Now to me this means everything's fine. OK.

But if I happened to be in the south of France,

it would have a quite different meaning.
There, the ring shape made by the

hand symbolizes a nought or a zero.

So, in south of France it means zero,
or worthless. So you don't

want to say the wine was great,
because in fact you're saying

the wine was worthless.
It gets even worse if you go to Sardinia

because there, the same gesture
is an obscenity, with the ring shape

symbolizing an orifice.

And if you think you're going to say
that something is great

in Sardinia like this,
believe me, you'll be in trouble.

There's another way that you can make mistakes with gestures

as you move from place to place,
because, a single message

is given in a different way
in different countries.

The crazy sign.
How do you say to somebody you're crazy?

Well here in Rome, you do this.

But in England, I would probably do this,
the temple screw,

saying he's got a screw loose.
Or I might say his brain is

going round and round.
Or I might tap my head saying what's

he think he's got inside his skull.
In some countries

you do it with two hands.
It varies from place to place and if you

go to Japan, you have to be careful because if you do it

this way, it means he's intelligent.

You have to do it in an anti-clockwise direction in Japan

if you want to say that somebody is crazy.
So all over world

the same message is given
in a slightly different way.

One of the most obvious examples of this,
and one of the most dangerous

is the insult gesture.
This Turkish pedestrian displays

his anger with the thrust of a stiff forearm using his arm

symbolically as an aggressively erect penis.

A slightly more obscure insult is the corna or horn sign

frequently seen in Italy.

It implies that the victim of the insult is a cuckold.

That his wife is unfaithful to him.

In North America,
the most common insult is the middle finger jerk.

Employing the index finger as a symbolic penis.

This is an ancient Roman gesture
and is well known in many countries.

Much more localized is the Greek muttsir.

This dates back to Byzantine times and symbolizes excrement

being pushed into the victims face.

In Britain, the main insult
is a two-fingered gesture, which dates back

to the Battle of Agincourt.

It's a gesture that foreigners sometimes confuse

with the V for victory sign.

But that's performed with the hand the other way around.

Most regional body language has a long and complicated history

with the origins often forgotten.

One of the special qualities of regional gestures is that

they're amazingly conservative.

They remain confined to their own particular area regardless

of the fact that all around them national boundaries keep changing.

As a result of this, within a particular country

today, you can find what we could call a gesture frontier.

A place where one gesture stops and another one begins.

This is a gesture frontier behind me.

It's a mountain range in central Italy.
And south of here

in Naples,

people use for example the head toss
when they're saying no.

Up in the north, in Rome,

they shake their heads from side to side when they're saying no.

And we were amazed to find that here,

at this mountain range, there's a very narrow area just a few miles

where you get the switch from head tossing to head-shaking.

The explanation of this switch is astonishing.

In origin, the head toss is a Greek gesture
and many centuries ago

the Ancient Greeks colonized
southern Italy and started to move north

and it was here at this range
that they stopped their

advance two and a half thousand years ago.

And to this day, in the north,
people still give the typical

European head shake when saying no.

While in the South,
they still give the ancient Greek head toss

and this difference has survived
despite all the mobility

of modern life, and the spread
of films and television programs.

The old gesture frontier remains.

Yes signals made with the head
are just as complicated as no signals.

In most parts of the world,

people nod the head up and down when saying yes.
Many people mistakenly

assume that this action is completely global,

but this isn't the case.

There are two areas
where something else happens.

One of them is India,
where instead of being nodded,

the head is wobbled from side to side
when saying yes.

To visitors, this looks like a maybe, but it's not.
It's a sign of definite agreement.

When your taxi driver agrees with you,
you can see his head

rolling from side to side.
You get the impression that he's undecided.

But every wobble he makes means "yes".

In another region altogether,
it's not just the visitors

who are confused,
even the inhabitants are not always sure

what's going on. Here in Bulgaria,

they use both the head nod
and the head wobble when saying yes,

which creates total confusion!
Why on earth they should

do this remains a mystery, even to them.

Although gestures often persist for hundreds,

or even thousands of years,

sometimes they may change their meaning as they're passed

on from generation to generation.

We all think we know what the popular thumbs-up and thumbs-down gestures mean.

If we go to the cinema, we're left in little doubt

as to the significance of these gestures.
The thumbs up for good

and the thumbs down for bad
are very well-known gestures,

and many people can tell you how they began.

It was here in the Colosseum in Rome.

If a gladiator at the end of a fight
was to be spared, the crowd

gave him a thumbs up sign.
If he was to be slain,

it was a thumbs-down sign.

That's the popular story.

There's just one catch.

It's completely false.

It never happened like that.
In ancient times if the Gladiator

was to be spared,

they gave him a covered up thumb.

The compressed or squashed sign.

They hid their thumbs.

If he was to be slain, then they mimed the act of stabbing him

with a sword like this.
And because they were high up of course,

they stabbed downwards like that.

That's the truth of the matter.

And the next time you go to the movies,

if you happen to see the thumbs up, you'll just have to take

it with a pinch of salt.

It's almost certain that our ancestors used gestures to communicate

specific information long before they had a spoken language.

Even today, with words as our main form of communication,

there are still situations where gestures have a definite advantage.

For example, they can communicate information

over a far greater distance than would be possible by shouting.

At racetracks in England, the white glove Tic Tac men signal

changes in the betting odds to the bookies so that they can

keep up with the alterations

their rivals may be making.
The flashing movements of the

white gloves can be seen even at night and at a great distance.

In some sports, a gestural sign language not only

conveys information over a great distance, but also allows

messages to be kept secret.

The coach of an American football team transmits complex

signals to his quarterback using coded hand signals that

conceal his intentions from the opposing team.

Even if the opposing team does manage
to crack the gestural code

at any one time, it's being constantly changed to confuse them.

On the floor of the Bombay Stock Exchange,

hand gestures provide a powerful tool
when competing for attention.

The frantic sell and buy signals indicated by the position of

the hands can be the basis of huge deals.

An insistent flick of the fingers
being the only way to attract

attention above the roar of the crowd.

In the eerie silence of the Australian outback

these two Warlpiri women are conversing quite adequately by gestures alone.

Now, they're not deaf,
and they're perfectly capable of speech.

But local custom
demands that as an act of mourning,

they don't utter a word for months
after a tribesman has died.

It's their version of wearing black.

Clearly, gestures are important to us.

But why are we so much better
at signaling with our hands

than other animals?

The answer of course is that
we are the only mammals

that are bipedal.

They are all quadrupedal.
They walk along on all fours.

But when we stood up on our hind legs
millions of years ago

here in Africa, we freed our hands
from the business of walking.

We freed them from the chore

of locomotion and that was
what enabled them to become the

flexible, gesticulating hands that we have today.

In order to appreciate what an immense impact the simple act

of standing up had on our primeval ancestors, it's only

necessary to watch our nearest living relatives,
the chimpanzees.

When they're moving about in their natural habitat, their hands

still have to function for much of the time as plodding front feet

and this prevents them from becoming highly developed

as expressive organs of gesture.

The front feet can operate successfully as grasping hands,

for example, when holding a baby, but they never develop

the subtlety of movement that we see in our own species.

Elegant gesturing remains the prerogative
of the uniquely bipedal naked ape.

So far all the gestures that I've described have been regional,

and they're used consciously
to replace speech, like the deliberate

directions of this policeman,
but there's another type of

gesture all together.
Unconscious hand movements usually

referred to as gesticulation.

Instead of replacing speech,
they accompany it.

This type of hand signal
has been christened the Baton gesture

because it beats time to our words
and emphasizes the points we're making

But Baton gestures do much more than merely beat time.

They also indicate our changing moods.
The posture of the hand

as it beats the air, revealing
the emotional state of the speaker.

Here at Speakers' Corner in London's Hyde Park,
a veritable gallery

of human baton gestures is on display.

Let's watch for a moment.

Now let's take a closer

look at two of his gestures.
Slowing it down,

his first gesture is
a repelling action using his hand as

if it were pushing away the intruder,

but without making physical contact.
These are obvious enough, but what does he do next?

As the intruder leaves,
he draws his chosen audience

back towards him
using an air grasp gesture, there.

Another speaker is about
to mention a precise date, and unconsciously

accompanies this with a precision gesture, as if holding

a small object with great delicacy between his thumb and forefinger.

A third speaker is in a more aggressive mood.

He's using not a precision grip,
but a power grip,

thrusting his clenched fist at the audience. The power of his fist reflecting

the power of his argument.

But now he switches to the raised forefinger.

Beating his listeners over the head with his small symbolic club.

And finally he extends his hands
palm up in an imploring gesture,

begging them to agree with him.

By contrast, this speaker employs the palm down gesture.

A more dominant action in which he attempts to calm his audience

by symbolically patting them on the head, as if they're unruly children.

Finally this man introduces the

hand chop gesture.
A decisive gesture in which his symbolically

tries to cut through the argument as if with a sharp blade.

The urge to express our emotions with our hands is so strong

that we continue to gesticulate even when the person we're

talking to, is miles away,

at the other end of a telephone line.

The urge to communicate by body language is so deeply ingrained

that if we happen to be Japanese, we even bow respectfully

to our remote invisible companion.

But there's another whole facet of body language that conveys

our emotions with even greater subtlety.

We humans have the most expressive faces in the entire animal kingdom.

We take our expressions rather for granted.

But if we trace them back to their origins, it's interesting

to see how they evolved.

The chimpanzee's face is almost as expressive as the human's,

and if we watch these apes in the wild,
we can begin to see

how we acquired our own highly mobile faces.

Originally, facial muscles were needed not for communication,

but for other more basic functions.

To move the lips for instance,
improving their role in drinking and feeding.

As the apes suck, chew and bite,
their powerful, sensitive lips

explore each object as it comes into contact with the mouth.

This involves a great deal of pulling and stretching

and when they're young, the infant apes employ their long lips

as valuable sucking organs,
squeezing milk from their mother's nipples.

But even the chimpanzee is no match
for the rubber faced human being.

If we could see below the surface

of the human face, we'd discover
the most complicated set

of facial muscles in the world.

These muscles give us a huge range of expressions.

Some big and bold. Others extremely subtle.

But humans and chimps don't just share a flexible face.

We also share many of the same expressions.

It's not hard for us to appreciate that

these young apes are in a playful mood
by simply looking at their faces.

And if we watch the way in which chimps work themselves up

into a violent mood,

it's easy for us to understand what's happening.

Whenever an animal goes on the attack,
it's always slightly

fearful of retaliation. As a result,

we see a face in conflict
The tightness of the lips around

the mouth is a sure sign of primate aggression.

While the lowered eyebrows indicate that the attacker is protecting

its eyes in case of a fight.

The same tight-lipped face is also seen in our own species

in moments of great emotional intensity.

There it is.
The tight mouth of animus.

This leaves

no doubt as to the mood of these women, especially when combined

with an intense stare.

One of the most primeval of all facial expressions
is the staring eye.

It's something we share with other animals,

and it's always threatening.
Because of this, in earlier centuries,

people thought there was something they called The Evil Eye.

A mystical force that by staring at them could do them harm.

To protect themselves against this evil eye,

they would often try to out steer it.
To do this,

they made effigies of eyes, which were unblinking and could

perform a permanent stare
to frighten away the evil spirits.

Fishermen when they went to sea, wanted to protect their boats,

and they did so by giving their boats a staring eye.

And all over the Mediterranean, fishing boats are protected

with elaborately painted and eternally unblinking eyes.

Because hard stares are so assertive,
some military and prison

rituals employ them in a special way.
At this correctional

camp in Maryland,

these prisoners are forbidden to stare,
even to glance,

at their prison officers.

The officers, who are not allowed to lay a hand on the prisoners

make their dominance felt by the most direct and intense

staring they can muster.
And the effect is one of acute intimidation

and almost painful humiliation.

If you thought that staring was pretty intimidating,

there's one culture that takes it even further.

This is the Maori Haka.
The aggressive challenge of the

indigenous people of New Zealand.

An ancient threat display,
still employed today in a modern context.

Taking another look at those aggressive chimpanzees, what happens

if they start to become alarmed and fearful.
If the courage

begins to desert them?

As they become more and more afraid, their expressions undergo

an important change.
Their mouth corners are pulled back further

and further.

This is the typical fear face of all primates,

including our own species.

The best way to prove just how closely we share this expression

is to examine the faces of the panic-stricken customers on

the latest fairground terror ride.
The spiralling Nemesis.

Just as with frightened chimps,

these mouth corners are pulled right back, exposing all the teeth.

The strange feature of this expression is that it

looks in some respects like the human smile.

Smiling is a uniquely human expression that has evolved from

the ancient fear face.

This may sound odd because we think of smiling as friendly,

not fearful. But there's a crucial link between the two.

The fear face is sometimes used as a submissive signal saying

in effect.

I'm scared,

therefore

I'm not a threat to you.

In other words,

it's an anti aggressive action.

It's only a small step from "I am not a aggressive"

to "I am friendly".
And that's how the human smile evolved.

Because of the smile's anti aggressive origins,

witnessing it makes onlookers feel at ease and responsive to the smiler

For this reason,

it's been a mainstay of commercial advertising for many years.

The problem for
these professional smilers however,

is that it's difficult to fake the expression perfectly.

The fixed smile gives the game away.

For synchronized swimmers, the physical exertions of their

sport make it even harder to fake a convincing smile.

They have to keep on smiling to impress the judges,

but it's not easy.

One of the best places to observe the false smile is on the

faces of the beachside photographer's customers.

But how precisely do we know that this smile

falls short of being convincing?
The essential feature

is that the specialized muscles that pull the mouth corners up,

and the ones around the eyes that create the smiling eyes

are both much

harder to control consciously, than the more ancient ones that

simply pull the mouth corners back.
No matter how hard we try,

we can't fabricate the perfect smile.

This incredibly strong link between our facial expressions

and the inner workings of our body has been put to very good

use by imaginative doctors in America who've taken the radical

step of clowning in hospital wards.

Although this may appear to be a bizarre form of medical care,

its impact is extraordinary.
By making patients smile and laugh,

their pain levels are reduced.
The happy facial expressions

actually release endorphins,
the body's natural pain killers

into their systems.

Amazingly the laughter created
by this clowning works as well

as any pain-killing drug.
Such is the power of human body language.

Because our body language reveals our true feelings,

we often try to suppress it
To hide our fears and anxieties,

our longings and our hostilities.
But it's such an efficient

communication system that we usually give away a few telltale signs.

Now for most of us, that's an everyday social challenge.

For some people

it's much more than that.
For professional poker players,

the suppression of body language is a way of life.

For them, even the tiniest hint of emotion can cost a fortune.

Here at the annual World Poker contest in Las Vegas

a million dollars in cash is piled onto the table to be won or lost

on the final play of the cards.
The finalists around the table

are the best players in the world and needless to say they

they are masters of body language control.

They epitomize the so-called poker face.

But even they are not entirely immune to the urges of human body language.

Careful studies of the tell-tale signs of poker players

have revealed that there are several vital clues

that can tell you when a hand is good or bad, and when a player is bluffing.

When a player has a bad hand

he stares at his cards a little longer.

When a player has a good hand,
his blink rate increases slightly.

When he has a good hand,
he looks away for a split second.

When he has a bad hand,
he bets with a flourish.

But these particular players, world champions,
in addition to being able

to suppress their own facial expressions and their telltale gestures,

are also masters of reading the
body language of their competitors.

This is the victor, but just watch his face.

This man has just won a million dollars, but his expressions

are so tightly under control

that even now, he cannot show any emotion.

There's no smile.

No shouting for joy.
His poker face is a mask.

All he allows himself eventually is a little jab

in the air with a triumphant forefinger.

Most of us would make poor poker players because we're so bad at lying

We give away our true feelings

despite all our efforts to conceal them.

This woman has just been accused of stealing somebody's purse,

and just by looking at her body language,

it's possible to spot certain clues that suggest that her

denials are false.

She brings her hand up to her mouth

as if to hide the lie that she's telling.
Face touching is

often a sign of attempted deception.

How'd you get the purse?

I got a ride.

Where'd you find it?

It was on the floor and I automatically thought it was mine cos...

She uses the hand shrug gesture.
An unconscious

disclaimer that usually increases in frequency when lying is taking place.

Well, if you thought it was yours and you just got to tell...

And her eyes blink and close more than usual, in an unconscious

attempt to shut out the outside world.
To cut herself off

from the tension of the lie.

Some people seem to think body language is trivial,

but it should be clear by now that this is not the case.

Indeed in moments of desperation,

we turn not just to spoken language,

but beyond that to the more primeval language of the body.

A signaling system that was used by our ancestors

for millions of years before the first human words were uttered.

And one that can still play a crucial role in ensuring

an individual's survival.

But even more far-reaching than this,
body language is so

powerful that it can change the course of history and affect the behavior

of literally millions of people.
A fact that tyrants have not overlooked.

For me, body language is far more than just a fascinating

area of human biology.

It's at the core of a whole new science.
The study of human behaviour

from a zoological perspective.

And for this series too,
body watching is only the beginning.

Turning a zoological eye towards our own species,

I'll be looking at the commonplace,
as well as the more unusual

actions of the human animal.
Why for example, for a species

which so often lives in a state of extreme overpopulation,

is aggressive behavior like this the exception rather than the rule?

In fact, for the vast majority of the time,
the human animal

goes about its business in an amazingly ordered world.

Every individual, even in the vast social system of a city, is aware

of fitting into a very precise position in the social pattern.

I'll be looking at the human animal's sexual behavior.

What biological mechanisms are at work when we choose a partner?

And what influences why we find certain people attractive, and others not.

When it comes to the courtship ritual, what are our species

typical behavior patterns?

And why at this time do we so often display juvenile characteristics

such as a need to be spoon-fed?

Parental behavior.
The bond between the human parent and its

young is probably the strongest of any species in the world.

And the effect of being separated can be quite devastating,

especially for the parent.

All is well. All right. All is well.

What is the biological function of rites of passage?

Ceremonies that mark the arrival of sexual maturity.

And why do human individuals remain alive long after they

cease to be able to bear children?

Finally in this series,

I'll be looking at those aspects of our behavior that appear

to have no parallels in the rest of the animal kingdom.

Is the playful behavior of our species really different from

that seen in other animals?

Is body decoration different from the elaborate and colorful

display plumage of birds?

What drives us to take serious risks,
merely for the thrill of it.

But before this, in the next episode, I'll turn my attention

to one of our most fundamental activities.
That of finding food.

There's no other species that consumes such an incredible

variety of food.

In fact we're so good at extracting nutrients

from our environment, that we're able to adapt to, and exploit

virtually every type of habitat on this planet.

And with our modern lifestyle,
what's happened to our ancestral

hunting urges?

Now, I've sometimes been accused of degrading mankind.

Of insulting human dignity
Of making man beastly.

This surprises me because I like animals, and I feel proud

to call myself one.
I've never looked down upon them.

So to call human beings animals is not to me, degrading.

It's simply being honest, and putting us in our place as part

of the scheme of nature on the planet Earth.