Interpretations of Visual Psychological Cues in the Show Big Brother

As a fan of Big Brother I watch it in a different way to most people. Due to my training and experience as a psychological interpreter when I watch Big Brother I observe how the different contestants behave and interact with each other. Unlike many other psychologists I don’t make interpretations in quite the same way.

For example: Many psychologists look for specific behaviours and then make interpretations based on isolated behaviours. One common behaviour is that crossing your arms or legs means that you are being defensive. This may be true but if you see this behaviour you shouldn’t take it in isolation to other behaviours. It could equally be that it is cold or that the person is more comfortable by crossing their arms or legs.

The key point that I would make is that you should keep in mind to watch out for PATTERNS. If someone, for example, covers their mouth and you think they were lying then look for other behaviours that were done at the same time and then check these in future situations. Poker players do this often to notice the behaviours of other players that give away whether they have a good hand or not.

There is so much that I could cover for you to look out for when watching Big Brother that I have to cut down to what I think are the key points. Firstly I will cover what to look out for on the first night.

The first night will be the prime time to really notice what all of the contestants initially think of each other. As everyone knows first impressions count. When it is Celebrity Big Brother all the contestants will not just make judgments based on what the other contestants look like but also on what they know about the reputations and images of the other contestants.

I’m only going to cover the basics here. I will do this partly because you will be watching Big Brother on a screen and are unlikely to see some of the more subtle behaviours like noticing people’s eyes dilating (the centre of the eyes getting larger to let in more light/information, a common sign of attraction).

Stepping back

When the contestants enter the house watch how they are greeted by the contestants already in the house. There are many behaviours people do just to be polite. They will do things like cuddling or kissing people on the cheek etc if you watch their feet though you can notice if they really want to keep away from that person or not. If they want to keep away then they are likely to step back putting their weight onto their back foot. If you watch for this sign you can judge how different people are likely to get on with each other. As people get to know each other relationships will change but to start with and to judge first impressions’ you can see whom is most likely to get on with whom.

When the contestants meet each other, as I have mentioned, look out for PATTERNS, if they step back with each person there may be another reason, it could be that they are withdrawn and don’t want to really be meeting or getting on with any of the other housemates. If you record Big Brother you can watch it back to look out for all the different hidden messages’.

As well as people stepping back, or stepping forward (putting more weight on the front foot) to show how much they are likely to get on with other housemates they are also likely to use the greeting process as an excuse to get closer to those they like the most. They may kiss and hug one person and just kiss, or just hug others. Look out for subtle differences in the reactions of the housemate when they meet each other.


Barriers are another common sign of people trying to avoid other people. Look out for those housemates that seem to keep stepping behind furniture when talking with specific people (remember you are looking for patterns). If they are genuinely using a barrier then they are likely to use a barrier consistently when one is available. If they are sitting down they might use a cushion, they may cross their arms if there is nothing else to use, they could hold a glass in front of them. If they are standing they may stand behind a sofa or another piece of furniture. If you suspect a pattern then look out for situations it should arise in. If you suspect someone is using barriers with a specific person then watch how they react with that person in future situations.

Barriers are often used by people as a metaphor to say they want distance. They are more likely to be used in situations where there is no escape.

Covering Mouth

People covering their mouth in some way can be a sign that the person is saying something that they don’t want to be caught saying. It could be a lie, or it could be saying an insult or gossip about someone. As I have mentioned previously that you should look for patterns, the covering of the mouth could be wiping the nose, wiping mouth, etc so you need to see what else is also happening. Do they change eye contact? When people lie or hide something they often change their eye contact. It isn’t true that people always look away when they lie. In fact normally people think this and so make more eye contact. The chances are they will change the eye contact from what is their norm. Do they turn their body? People regularly turn their body away from the person they are lying to or saying what they think they shouldn’t really be saying.

Toe pointing

Look where people point their feet. When people are talking to each other and are interested in each other they will generally point their feet at the person they are interested in. If they want to get away they are likely to point their feet towards the exit. If they really want to be talking with someone else they are likely to be pointing their feet at that person instead.

Eye Accessing Cues

Eye accessing cues are the unconscious signals given off that reveal what information a person is accessing unconsciously at that time. You can check this with the language they use as some people have accessing cues that are reversed (normally left-handed people)

One interesting point is that often when people meet and one fancies the other they often imagine (visually construct look up left, from the point of view of you looking at them) spending time’ with that person. So look out for people that suddenly glance up and left when they first meet someone.

There is an interesting story I once heard about Richard Bandler (the guy that first noticed eye accessing cues), he was in a restaurant with a famous musician when the waitress came over to serve them. On arriving at the table and seeing this musician she glanced up and left. Richard immediately said you would do that with him would you?’ and in shock at having her thoughts read’ she quickly covered her eyes as if she had just revealed something she shouldn’t have. In reality it was just an informed guess based on seeing the waitress suddenly access created images in her mind on seeing the musician. Obviously from her reaction he was probably correct!

Micro expressions

I’m going to talk briefly about micro expressions. They are difficult to notice due to the fact that they last only a fraction of a second. They are the true expression or reaction to an experience. It could be that someone has just been asked something and they scowl slightly then smile and respond favourably even though their true response was given off unconsciously. If you pause or watch a taped program back in slow motion you can notice these expressions to see people’s true responses.