The Body Language of a Guilty Person

A guilty person's body language depends on how they experience remorse for something. It's quite intense in some but hardly present in others.
The Body Language of a Guilty Person

Last update: 21 July, 2020

The body language of a guilty person isn’t easy to detect for several reasons. The first one is that guilt isn’t a basic emotion. Only basic emotions are clearly reflected in the micro-expressions of the human body. However, guilt is a more complex formation that involves reflection and several emotions, all at once.

Similarly, a guilty person doesn’t always acknowledge guilt. It’s possible, for example, that someone who steals feels entitled to it. This is because, according to them, the other person doesn’t need what they took. Or perhaps they’re convinced it was unfairly acquired. Therefore, they won’t express guilt and, obviously, it won’t reflect in their body language.

Likewise, some movements and postures are impossible to control voluntarily, at least for a few seconds. Instead, there’s a strong component of rationality in guilt, so it’s also possible to exercise deliberate control over the movements that reveal this feeling. In conclusion, guilty body language is more difficult to detect, although not impossible. Below, we share some of its characteristics.

The essential gestures in the body language of a guilty person

A person who feels guilty but doesn’t want to take responsibility for what they did often live in a state of alert. They’re aware they’re hiding both the damage they did and the resulting remorse. Hence, in those cases, people have relatively broad control over their body language.

However, according to anthropologist Desmond Morris, an unconscious involuntary movement is part of the body language of guilt. It’s blinking. As much as the person pretends to have everything under control, they’ll blink intermittently when asked or hinted at something related to their feeling of guilt.

This increase in blinking frequency is considerable and noticeable, but those who feel guilty don’t immediately notice it. This gesture denotes that a person feels vulnerable and has an intense desire to regain control of the situation. It’s usual for it to be accompanied by head movements in various directions.

A woman covering her eyes.

Looks and expressions

Another thing to look at when it comes to guilty body language is the eyes. Often, a person who acted against their convictions and values has a hard time making eye contact. They’ll probably look elsewhere, always with their eyes down. The chin won’t necessarily tilt downward, but their gaze does.

This is relative, however. It doesn’t always happen because some people know this gesture gives them away. Sometimes, there’s also a strong conviction that what they did was bad but necessary or convenient. Therefore, the person doesn’t experience guilt as such, even though they know they inflicted harm.

In this second case, it’s common for a person to show excessive control over their facial expressions. What they want is, precisely, not to reveal anything. Thus, they keep their muscles tense and try to gesture as little as possible. They don’t take their eyes off their interlocutor because they want to be aware. In other words, they seek to maintain control over the situation.

A man sitting on the floor.

Covering one’s mouth and difficulty speaking

Although this doesn’t apply to all cases, another habitual gesture in guilt body language is the tendency to cover your mouth or face. Sometimes, a person puts their hand on their lips or face. They don’t want to give themselves away and, without being aware, try to cover themselves.

Similarly, some noticeable speech difficulties may appear. A guilty person clears their throat too often or stutters a bit. The tension and stress of maintaining this role dry their mouth, which is why they drink frequently. They may also have difficulty stringing words into coherent sentences.

Finally, the body language of a guilty person is never the same and neither is the way they experience. Some bad actions torment them, while others don’t bother them at all. It also depends on the influence of their individual and cultural factors. This is why the reading of these gestures is relative.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Pease, A., & Pease, B. (2010). El lenguaje del cuerpo: cómo interpretar a los demás a través de sus gestos. Editorial Amat.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.