Body Language Cues

From Adam's-Apple-Jump to Zygomatic Smile

(Spokane, Washington: Center for Nonverbal Studies Press) Items in this Dictionary have been researched by anthropologists, archaeologists, biologists, linguists, psychiatrists, psychologists, semioticians, and others who have studied human communication from a scientific point of view. Every effort has been made to cite their work in the text. Definitions, meanings, and interpretations left uncredited are those of the author. Gestures and consumer products with current trademark registrations are identified with the ® symbol.

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Body movement. 1. A conspicuous up-and-down motion of the Adam's apple. 2. A movement of the throat visible while gulping or swallowing, as in nervousness.

Usage: The Adam's-apple-jump is an unconscious sign of emotional anxiety, embarrassment, or stress. At a business meeting, e.g., a listener's Adam's apple may inadvertently jump should he or she dislike or strongly disagree with a speaker's suggestion, perspective, or point of view.

U.S. politics. The Adam's apple gained it's 15 minutes of fame when former Vice President James Danforth Quayle's thyroid cartilage "jumped" in the 1988 vice-presidential debates, as he listened to his opponent, Lloyd Bentsen's pointed claim: "Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy!"

RESEARCH REPORTS: 1. Swallowing "associates well with flight and submission" (Grant 1969:528). 2. Stimulating the emotionally sensitive amygdala can cause involuntary body movements "associated with olfaction and eating, such as licking, chewing, and swallowing" (Guyton 1996:758-59).

Anatomy. Anxiety, social discomfort (e.g., embarrassment), and fear are often visible in unwitting, vertical movements of a projection at the front of the throat called the laryngeal prominence, where the largest (or thyroid) cartilage of the Adam's apple shows, prominently in men, but less noticeably in women.

Neuro-notes. Acting through the vagus nerve (cranial X), emotional tension from the brain's limbic system causes unconscious muscular contractions of the sternothyroid, thyrohyoid, and associated inferior pharyngeal constrictor muscles of the Adam's apple. Movement is evident as the muscles contract to swallow, to throat-clear, or to vocalize an objection which may be left unsaid. The Adam's apple is emotionally responsive (i.e., reflects visceral or "gut" feelings) because its muscles are mediated by the vagus, which is one of five special visceral nerves.

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