U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro made history last weekend, holding the first bilateral meeting between U.S. and Cuban presidents in nearly 60 years.
So, how'd the first high-level interaction between two longtime adversaries in a long time go? According to a couple of professors who studied photos and video of the meeting and analyzed both participants' body language, the general conclusion was that the animosity between the two countries was waning, while Obama made a point of trying to be aggressive and in command of the meeting.
"What you see in the photographs is an attempt by Obama to assert dominance over Castro, particularly with the pointing gestures sitting across the table," said Erik Bucy, the regents professor of strategic communication at Texas Tech University. See?
"Leaning in and pointing is a sign of adversarial rather than conciliatory behavior, and is unnecessary in such close proximity except to make the point that Obama wants to maintain dominance, or control, over the relationship. Obama's direct eye gaze, which is really a fixed stare, is a subtle form of aggression, what could be considered a threat display."
Added Joseph Tecce, an associate professor of psychology at Boston College: "My conclusion is that the two personalities are quite different with Castro being a bit on the shy side, lacking in confidence about the meeting, and being intimidated by the situation while Obama expresses confidence and aggressiveness and feels comfortable in taking charge of the interpersonal situation."
Both professors provided disclaimers that the still photos of the meeting might not tell the whole story. But here are some of the conclusions they drew from photos and video of the meeting.
Bucy: "This message of dominance is evident in more subtle ways as well. In the handshake close-up, it's Raul Castro's (aging) hand reaching over to embrace Obama's outstretch[ed] palm."
Tecce: Obama's "initiative for control is expressed more aggressively by his intrusive hand gestures and suggests an attempt to intimidate Castro."
Bucy: "In the standing handshake, Obama's body orientation — leaning in but maintaining a distance of what looks like several feet — conveys a diffidence towards Castro and unwillingness to embrace him as a friend; there is no shoulder embrace in this shot, or diplomatic hug, just the bare minimum of contact."
Tecce: "Obama is leaning forward, suggesting that he is taking the initiative to be in control."
Tecce: "The hand gestures by Castro are not 'in your face' but more constrained."
Bucy: "The shot of Obama and Casto sharing a lighter moment does convey warmth — but again, at a distance of several feet. At best, Obama's posture towards Castro falls into the category of 'cautious reassurance' rather than an outright embrace."
Tecce: "Obama is more expressive with a big smile — perhaps even orchestrated to ingratiate Castro — while Castro's smile is self-contained."
Brett LoGiurato is the senior national political correspondent at Fusion, where he covers all things 2016. He'll give you everything you need to know about politics, with a healthy side of puns.