Making a Murderer, Chapter 1, Episode 1: Steven returns home, body language analysis

I’ve been wondering where to take this Making a Murderer, body language review blog for some time. So far, I’ve covered ‘characters’ who have shown interesting nonverbal signals, that are at misaligned with their words, which suggests deception–Mike Halbach, Dr Marc LeBeau/Norm Ghan. Or, ‘characters’ who have been suggested by my readers–Ryan Hillegas/Mike Halbach, Pam Sturm.

I want to make it more logical, starting at the top with Episode 1–Steven returns home. Why? When I write, for both this blog and my general body language blog, my aim is to empower people to read and understand body language, so that they can spot the same behaviours within their daily lives and present the best versions of their self to others. If I only look at deceptive behaviours, I miss many important behaviours. So, let’s take it from the top and work through each episode…


Chapter 1 / Episode 1 / Eighteen Years Lost

Steven Returns Home

Released on DNA evidence, Steven Avery returns to his family home after serving eighteen years in jail, for a rape he didn’t commit. 

Allan Avery (Steven’s father)

“Here they come, up the road, after eighteen years.”


“How you doing?”

Steven Avery

“Oh hello.”


“How are you?”

Steven Avery

“I’m pretty good.”


How’s it feel?”

Steven Avery

“It feels wonderful!”

Genuine Smile of Happiness

As he’s welcomed back by the group that has gathered, friends, family and reporters, Steven exudes happiness. We can expect from the situation that his emotion would be overwhelmingly positive and our assumptions are confirmed when we see a smile beaming from his face. It’s a genuine smile of happiness, one of the seven universal expressions innate across all cultures.

This type of smile is not only seen in the mouth; we see it in the eyes too. This is how we can decipher whether a smile is genuine or polite. The cheek muscles are activated, pushing up into the eyes, something that only one in ten people can fake. It causes crows feet at the outer corners of the eye and a pronounced line beneath the eyes. If we only see a smile in the mouth, we can consider it a polite smile, or a fake smile, and not one of genuine happiness. Steven is happy. We see it on his face, we hear it through his voice and in his words; his words and actions are aligned. The truth is, “It feel’s wonderful”.


Gravity-Defying Behaviours

Steven and his aunt launch into an embrace. As they cling to each other tightly, she jumps up and down–a gravity-defying behaviour. Steven is happy to comply, bobbing up and down with her exaggerated movements, then swaying side to side. Like the rest of the family, she is delighted to see Steven home. She doesn’t want to let him go, not after eighteen years of absence. There is no concealment of emotions here. This is a precious moment, one to be cherished.

We rarely see adults indulging in such exaggerated behaviours, yet we can easily picture a child, giddy with excitement, jumping up and down in a display of happiness. As adults, we tend to conceal our emotions to conform to social norms and to protect ourselves or others from the truth or consequences. When we receive good news, we may feel the emotion of happiness very deeply, but rarely would we outwardly display the true level of our joy in public. Steven’s aunt is so overwhelmingly excited that any consideration of social norms are far from her mind. And rightly so, she has waited eighteen years for this moment, she will savour every second.

We ‘defy gravity’ when we feel good about something, through many different behaviours. For example, a spring in our step, jumping up and down, elevating onto our toes, raised thumbs or raised toes. Look at your toes and thumbs right now. Are they pointing upwards? Emotions are contagious, and the chances are, if you’ve just watched this scene, your mirror neurons have been firing and, you too, are showing and feeling positive emotions.  


Shoulder Shrugs

Steven’s Aunt

“We knew he was innocent”

She immediately repeats her statement, with emphasis on the ‘knew’.

“We knew he was innocent” 

At the same time, her shoulders shrug in unison. The full shoulder shrug (both shoulders) is a common and interesting gesture, cropping up again and again within our daily lives–we just need to open our eyes to observe it. Its close relative is the one-sided shoulder shrug. The two gestures are opposite in meaning, yet both can be revealing and significant, depending on the words they accompany. The full shoulder shrug tells us that the speaker, in this case, Steven’s aunt, is confident in her words. She wholeheartedly believes what she is saying; this is her truth–they knew he was innocent.

She is unaware that her body confirms her words. These two gestures are involuntary; they are controlled by our subconscious brain. We can attempt to control subconscious gestures once we understand their meaning, for example deliberately holding our shoulders very still, but it won’t last. The cognitive load of monitoring and controlling both our words and behaviours simultaneously is too demanding, before long our body will once again reveal what we try to conceal.

In stark opposition to the full shoulder shrug, is the one-sided shoulder shrug. It tells us that the speaker is not confident in their words. Pause for a moment and consider the significance–this is a non-verbal communication cue that points towards deception, a signal that should put us on high alert. Had Steven’s aunt shrugged only one shoulder, the true meaning of her words would be very different. Her body would be communicating that her words weren’t entirely true. Possibly that, 'we' was not inclusive of all parties; or that, 'we weren’t quite sure if he was innocent'; or worse still, 'we didn’t believe he was innocent'. The one-sided shoulder shrug doesn’t tell us the whole truth, but it does point towards the truth.

The shoulder shrug, whether a full shrug or a one-sided shrug, is a reliable and revealing signal. It’s been staring you in the face all your life, and you probably never (consciously) noticed it. Subtle behaviours that confirm or deny the spoken words of your loved ones, friends, acquaintances and colleagues. You can’t undo the past, but you can learn to observe, and seek truth from now onwards.

Don’t just observe these cues in others, observe them in yourself too. They are not always present, but they are often present. Some of us are serial ‘shruggers', with one shrug or another accompanying most sentences. Noticing a one-sided shrug as you speak can reveal a lot about your true feelings because your subconscious brain tells and seeks the truth. When you find yourself doing a one-sided shrug, reconsider what you just said and start to understand yourself a little more–did you actually mean what you said?


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