Christmas is almost here. You’ve spent a lot of time and thought to make sure you have the perfect gift for your loved ones. I’m sure they’ll SAY they like it. But do they really? Or are they just going to regift it? Do you want to know how to tell? Don’t answer too quickly. You may not like the answer. Body language and microexpressions often reveal true feelings. Just don’t shoot the messenger!

Kids don’t put as much effort into hiding their emotions as adults. They make it pretty clear if they don’t like something:

But with adults, most try to spare your feelings and may SAY they like a gift, when really they don’t. Here are 3 tips for how to tell if someone REALLY likes your gift. Step 1… don’t buy fruitcake.

Tip #1: Can you spot a real smile?


Guillaume Duchenne, a French neurologist in the 1800s, found that there is a difference between a fake smile and a ‘real’ smile. They’re generated from different parts of the brain and use different muscles in the face. A real smile, sometimes called a Duchenne smile, activates the orbicularis oculi muscle. In English, this means the smile shows not just in the mouth, but up into the cheeks and around the eyes. When your loved one opens the present, if you see crow’s feet and a high smile, chances are good they really do like it.


See the difference in these two pictures below? In the photo on the left, she was just smiling for the camera. In the photo on the right, she had heard something funny.

Untitled design

*Nonverbal Ninja Note* When uploading a social media profile picture, keep this in mind. Guess which picture she gets more compliments on?

Tip # 2: Watch for Distancing or Blocking

When he/she opens your gift, do they lean their torso back or turn their head away? Do they scoot their chair back or take a step back? If they’re standing up, you might see their feet turn out. This may be a nonverbal signal that they’re trying to get away from your gift. Maybe fruitcake wasn’t such a good idea.


Blocking is another way we try to shield ourselves from something we don’t like. It can be a subtle cue like folding arms, closing eyes or pinching the bridge of the nose so they can’t see.


Tip #3: Microexpressions

A microexpression is a subtle, brief (less than a second) and involuntary expression from a strong emotion. Since they are involuntary, they often leak out showing our true initial reaction to something. But because they’re so short in duration, you have to watch closely for that first moment they see the gift. If the expression follows their statement, instead of preceding it, it may be a deliberate or fake expression. Paul Ekman, in his studies around the world, has found that all people display 7 universal microexpressions. Learn to spot them and you’ll know if your gift is liked or not. Here are just a few:

*Nonverbal Ninja Note* As with any ‘reading’ of body language, make sure you consider CONTEXT. Some of these expressions can be ‘punctuators’ or expressions that a person uses regularly. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the expression corresponds to a feeling. Also look for CLUSTERS of cues pointing the same way.


A quick way to spot disgust is for the nose to wrinkle up as if the person smelled something bad. Once again, don’t give fruitcake.




You can know someone has contempt or extreme dislike for your gift if you see one side of their mouth go up into a smirk.



You can often spot anger by the brow furrowing together making vertical wrinkles.



You can see if they’re sad by watching the corners of the mouth going down, lip going out and/or eyebrows tilting down. We can recognize sadness pretty easily, but with a microexpression it will be brief and then they may follow up with a fake smile.



Where are you shopping for presents that are evoking fear??!! Watch for the whites of the eyes. Or they may open their mouths wide to take in oxygen.




Surprise may be the most common expression if you’ve kept your present a secret and is unexpected. This one is easy to spot because the eyebrows shoot upward and the jaw drops downward. How can you tell the difference between fear and surprise? With surprise, the eyebrows tend to make upside-down ‘U’s. With fear, you’ll sometimes see horizontal wrinkles across their forehead.



Okay, I said 3 tips, but here’s one more. Lip pursing is something we do when we’re holding back what we’re trying to say. Often people that lie will lip purse. I’ve noticed my boss will lip purse right before answering a difficult question when he’s pausing to make sure he answers tactfully. This could be used with a cluster of the above cues. For example, if the person opens the gift, flashes a disgust expression, closes their eyes for a moment and says they love it followed by a lip purse… they probably aren’t really into it.

lip purse

This article is written by Jeff Baird, a Certified Body Language Trainer through the Science of People and founder of Arise from the Dust, a mentoring service to help people overcome obstacles and conquer their goals. You can follow Jeff on Facebook here and Twitter here


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