Can Putin's Body Language Reveal His Plans? Page 2


"There's that famous scene in Dirty Harry movie where a car is sitting out in front of a bank and they are smoking one cigarette after another," Novarro said. "Body language does, in fact, sometimes telegraph that someone is up to no good."

The vast majority of nonverbal messages are expressed unintentionally, said Gerald Shuster, an expert in political communication and presidential rhetoric at University of Pittsburgh. A change in tone of voice, speed of speech or an unusual tilt of the head can hint at insecurity or insincerity.

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For his part, Putin is notoriously described as cold, calculating, narcissistic and macho, and the way he carries himself conveys conflicting images. He goes hunting and takes his shirt off. He grips podiums tightly instead of gesturing like Obama does. Those behaviors make him appear tough and stoic.

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But at the Sochi Olympics this winter, he showed a different side -- smiling, hugging children and kissing athletes. Studying Putin's behavior, Shuster said, can offer clues about whether he's speaking honestly or putting on a show.

"A lot of times, the way he talks sends double meanings," Shuster said. "Like when he was patting athletes on the back for their contributions to the success of the Olympics, at the same time he was saying, ‘Don't count Russia out.'"

Still, it can be tricky to decipher the nonverbal cues of world leaders like Putin because their behaviors are so measured.

And although studies show that nonverbal messages can offer insight into people's previous or imminent actions, Navarro said, there is zero evidence that body language can hint at what someone's going to do in the long-term.

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Instead, Putin's personality and history are much more revealing.

"He didn't grow up on Sesame Street, he went to the Kremlin's kindergarten," Novarro said. "He was promoted because he could lie and he could be tough. So we shouldn't see a lot of his behaviors as indicative of deception because those things were trained into him. When you work undercover, if you don't know how to bluff and lie, you're dead."

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