Page last updated at 11:35 GMT, Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Body language of McGuinness and Robinson 'revealing'

Martin McGuinness and Peter Robinson, frame-by-frame

Was Northern Ireland's first minister Peter Robinson in a state of "suppressed aggressive arousal" during his explosive clash with Martin McGuinness?

That's the view of body language expert Judi James, who said the argument at a news conference on Monday was a fascinatingly unguarded glimpse behind the facade of political life.

"Although the disagreement is not a good thing, it was interesting and rare in politicians for them to verbalise their disagreement and show it in their body language," says Ms James.

The row between the DUP and Sinn Fein over a date for transferring policing and justice powers from London to Belfast has been brewing for several months, but this was the first time the two men had argued in public.

Martin McGuinness and Peter Robinson clashed at a news conference

It was sparked by a question put to Mr McGuinness, where he was asked if he would resign if he did not get a date for the devolution of justice before Christmas.

Ms James said the forcefulness of the Sinn Fein deputy first minister's attack on the DUP seemed to catch Mr Robinson by surprise.

"Martin McGuinness' demeanour was a very strong lifted jaw, a deadpan delivery and he was gazing ahead.

"You could see Peter Robinson was slightly less prepared - he was standing to one side, he actually glanced to the side and spoke to someone before he started talking.

They didn't look like the best of buddies, but funnily enough, there was something about the honesty in the disagreement that could lead to agreement in the long term
Judi James

"In another giveaway gesture, Mr Robinson also had an accelerated blink rate.

"We often do that when we get a burst of adrenaline, when we're surprised or when we're in a state of suppressed aggressive arousal."

Ms James has studied the body language of everyone from Big Brother contestants to prime ministers, and she said the two men's "congruent body language" - where they adopt similar postures - could be a sign they could eventually reach agreement.

"Having studied people like Gordon Brown pretending to be best mates with Tony Blair, I'm probably more troubled by overt displays which are not congruent," she says.

"There were some useful signs - for instance, Martin McGuinness used a measuring gesture to define the size of the problem, but he was bringing his hands closer together and then he linked his fingers, almost implying that he genuinely does believe there could be a resolution.

"I think they need to be told to play together nicely.

"They didn't look like the best of buddies, but funnily enough, there was something about the honesty in the disagreement that could lead to agreement in the long term."

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