See also Nonverbal Brain

Copyright © 1998 - 2002 (David B. Givens/Center for Nonverbal Studies)



An important baton [i.e., speaking gesture] which ties him together with his [TV] viewers occurs when he [Phil Donahue] is seated with his elbows close to the body and his forearms stretch forwards [sic] at a 45° angle, palms wide open. -Walburga von Raffler-Engel (1984:13)

Gesture. 1. A speaking or listening gesture made with the fingers extended and the hand(s) rotated to an upward (or supinated) position. 2. A gesture made with the opened palm raised to an appealing, imploring, or "begging" position.

Usage: Uplifted palms suggest a vulnerable or nonaggressive pose which appeals to listeners as allies, rather than as rivals or foes. Throughout the world, palm-up cues reflect moods of congeniality, humility, and uncertainty. (Palm-up gestures contrast with palm-down cues, which are more domineering and assertive-like in tone.) Accompanied by "palm shows," our ideas, opinions, and remarks may seem patronizing or conciliatory, rather than aggressive or "pointed." Held out to an opponent across a conference table, the palm-up cue may, like an olive branch, enlist support as an emblem of peace.

Anatomy. As Darwin (1872) noted, palm-up signs are part of a shoulder-shrug posture involving the entire upper body. Lifting a shoulder stretches trapezius and levator scapulae muscles of our neck, tilting our head toward the shoulders' high side. Head-tilt-side, meanwhile, excites muscle-spindle receptors in our neck, stimulating a posture designed to stabilize the head relative to the body and the pull of gravity, released by the assymetrical tonic neck reflex or ATNR. In the shoulder shrug, the fingers on our neck's tilted side automatically extend as the hand rotates to a raised position, producing the palm-up cue. Rotation is due to contraction of the forearm's supinator muscle, stimulated by the 6th cervical nerve through the brachial plexus. Our upper arm's prominent biceps muscle flexes the elbow joint, and brings it closer into our body's side (i.e., adducts the arm at the elbow). Aiding supinator, biceps assists in rotating our palm to its uplifted position.

Culture. 1. In North Africa, cradling one hand in the other "with both in the palm-up position" means, "I don't understand" (Morris 1994:105). 2. In Saudi Arabia, the supinated palms up gesture--made with the upper arms held inward against the sides of the body, and the forearms extended and held forward, horizontally-- is a religious sign imploring the deity to witness a user's nonverbal statement, "I swear!" (Morris 1994:197). This Saudi cue incorporates the pancultural humility of the raised, supinated human hand.

Observations. 1. A sales representative appeals to her boss with a palm-up cue: "Do you really want me to fly out to Cleveland tomorrow?" 2. A teenager asks to borrow his mother's car, using a raised palm to plead: "Please, Mom?" 3. In Ghana, a tribal woman gestures with lifted palms after hearing that her husband favors polygamy: "What can we women do?" she asks hopelessly. 4. In the boardroom, a CEO appeals to his senior staff with a palm-up gesture and implores, "I need your help."

Psychiatry. In mental patients, "hands up" with "head up," followed by "hands drop," is a two phase gesture which comes from reaching up for help: "Pick me up" (Engel 1978).

U.S. politics. "Indeed, one of the reasons for Ronald Reagan's remarkable popularity in the United States today may well be his very liberal use of palm displays. How could anyone distrust a guy who is so genial, so disarming, so warm, and so comforting?" (Blum 1988:6-10).

RESEARCH REPORTS: 1. The first scientific study of palm-up gestures was conducted by Charles Darwin (1872), who saw them as signs derived from a larger shoulder-shrug display. 2. The open-palm-up hand-shrug is a sign of helpless uncertainty and confusion (Ekman and Friesen 1968; "The hand-shrug rotation . . . is an example of a nonverbal repetition of the verbal content; the rotating hands show a nonverbal inability to use the hands to do something, which parallels the verbal statements of uncertainty" [p. 209; Author's Note: This is a curious interpretation of the palm-up cue]). 3. In chimpanzees, palm-up signs are used to beg for food, to invite bodily contact, and to seek support during a conflict: "We call the gesture with the extended arm and open palm holding out a hand. It is the most common hand gesture in the colony" (Waal 1982: 34-36). 4. Palm-up cues are used to ask "who," "what,"

"when," "why," "where," and "how" questions in diverse sign languages of the deaf from Papua New Guinea to Colombia and New York (Givens 1986). 5. Palm-up cues include: a. hand cradle ("I don't understand"), b. hands shrug (1) (a "disclaimer" in response to questions), c. hands shrug (2) (a "deceptive" speaking gesture), d. palms up (1) ("I implore you," used when public speakers "beg their audiences to agree with them"), and e. palms up (3) (widely used in religious prayer; Morris 1994:105, 137-8, 196-7).

Neuro-notes I. Upraised palms are gestural byproducts of an ancestral crouch display, a protective vertebrate posture designed to be defensive rather than offensive. Neural roots of palm-up cues thus reach back further in time than palms themselves--at least 500 m.y.a.--to protective paleocircuits for flexion withdrawal built into the aquatic brain & spinal cord. These circuits reflexively bend the ancestral body wall, neck, arms, and legs away from danger, while palms and forearms rotate upward through the action of primeval neck reflexes.

Neuro-notes II. Note that our palm-up rotations tend to be one-handed when stimulated by turning our head sideward, and when tilting it left or right--but two-handed when our neck is bent forward or backward (Kandel, Schwartz, and Jessell 1991). We do not ordinarily make conscious choices about the gesture, because we are too busy talking to notice or care. The emotions responsible for palms-up are located above the spinal cord in defensive areas of our forebrain's limbic system (notably the amygdala), passing through basal ganglia and brain-stem links to the cord below. Thus, our emotional brain unwittingly touches off flexor-withdrawal gestures designed to protect us from real and imagined harm, in jungles as well as in corporate boardrooms. That we do not deliberately gesture with palm-up cues places them among our most trustworthy signs.


Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000 (David B. Givens/Center for Nonverbal Studies)



Asymmetrical tonic neck reflex. 1. A gross motor reflex which provides neural programming for basic postures of the torso and limbs (e.g., in crawling and reaching). 2. The anatomical "fencing posture," produced by turning an infant's head to one side (e.g., leftward), showing a. arm extension and upward palm-rotation of the "face" or "jaw hand" (i.e., baby's right hand in this case), and b. arm flexion and palm pronation of the "head" or "skull hand" (i.e., baby's left; Peiper 1963:156). 3. Reflexive in infancy, fragments of ATNR emerge as nonverbal signs in stressful, emotional, or physically demanding situations, and in sleep.

Usage: ATNR provides the basic wiring for one of our most telltale mood signs, the hand-behind-head. ATNR's reflexive, brain-stem circuitry makes this unconscious gesture a trustworthy indication of disagreement, uncertainty, frustration, and anger.

Art. Michelangelo's The Three Labour's of Hercules (c. 1530) and Rodin's The Age of Bronze (1875-76) are classic examples of how artists may depict strong emotion in tense limb postures released by ATNR. One arm stretched fully forward, e.g., with the other flexed and curled behind the head, shows feelings powerful enough to have triggered the reflexive fencing posture.

RESEARCH REPORT: In the ATNR position, an infant gorilla's face hand clearly shows the palm-up position (Baumgartel 1976:69).

Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000 (David B. Givens/Center for Nonverbal Studies)



What ails you that you keep gazing on the ground? --Dante Alighieri (Purgatorio, Canto XIX)

Sign. 1. Rotating the eyeballs in their sockets to a downward position. 2. Bowing or tilting the head forward so that the eyes face the ground or floor.

Usage: Gaze-down may convey a defeated attitude. It may also reflect guilt, shame, or submissiveness, as when distorting the truth or telling a lie (see DECEPTION). Gazing down while--or shortly afterstating "I am innocent," e.g., shows that a speaker may not believe his or her own remarks. True statements are normally given with a confident, face-to-face or level gaze, which may be held longer than three seconds.

Anatomy. The six muscles that cooperate to move each eyeball are common to all vertebrates. Direct eye contact (or primary gaze, i.e., looking straight ahead) involves all six muscles (Nolan 1996:60). Gaze-down occurs as the inferior rectus muscle, innervated by the oculomotor nerve (cranial III), contracts as the prime mover.

Courtship. The downward gaze is a standard cue used when courting couples speak.

E-Commentary: David, do you have any specific research information on how men tend to lower their eyes when speaking to women--which leads the women to believe men are looking at their chest? I would be curious to learn the reason this type of behavior occurs as I do not believe it is always deliberate on the part of men. --Jane (1/23/02 8:36:40 AM Pacific Standard Time)

RESEARCH REPORTS: 1. Look down (e.g., "Looking down at floor") is included in two checklists of universal human cues (Grant 1969:526, Brannigan and Humphries 1972). 2. Submissive children glance down (McGrew 1972). 3. In primates an unwavering gaze shows dominance and threat (Blurton Jones 1967, Eibl-Eibesfeldt 1975), while gaze avoidance is a submissive cue (Altmann 1967). 4. Bowing the head forward is a component of the protective STARTLE REFLEX.

E-Commentary: "Hi, my name is Danielle and I am attending Northern Illinois University. I am currently researching the body language of President Bill Clinton, specifically surrounding the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Any help, advice or guidance you could offer me would be greatly appreciated." (3/23/00 2:20:24 PM Pacific Standard Time)

U.S. politics. In a televised statement, while maintaining there was "no truth" to allegations about a sexual relationship with White House intern, Monica Lewinsky, President William Jefferson Clinton swallowed (see ADAMS-APPLE-JUMP), protruded his tongue (see TONGUE-SHOW), and gazed down (McLaughlin Group, January 22, 1998). On January 26, 1998, after pointing his finger aggressively at the American people and stating, "I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky," President Clinton gazed down, clenched his lips (see TENSE-MOUTH), swallowed, and tongue-showed as he left the podium. On September 9, 1998, in Orlando, Florida, President Clinton shrugged his shoulders (see SHOULDER-SHRUG) and gazed down during a nationally televised public apology as he said, "I've done my best to be your friend" (Washington Post, September 10, 1998). (N.B.: According to Whitewater special prosecutor, Kenneth Starr, "There is no substitute for looking a witness in the eye" [Associated Press, February 6, 1998].)

Neuro-notes. Feelings of guilt, shame, and submissiveness pass from the forebrain's emotional limbic system and subcortical motor centers (basal ganglia), to the midbrain's oculomotor (cranial III) and other cranial nerves. Acting in concert, our eye muscles pull together in downward or sideward eye movements, depending on the mood. Submissive feelings move our eyes downward through protective paleocircuits established in lower (i.e., subcortical) vision centers of the midbrain. (Voluntarygaze-down involves higher brain centers, i.e., the prefrontal eye fields.) Flexing the head forward is controlled by the nucleus precommisuralis (separate from the prestitial nucleus, which is in charge of raising the head, e.g., in the arrogant head-tilt-back posture).

Antonym: STARE. See also BOW.

Copyright © 1998 - 2002 (David B. Givens/Center for Nonverbal Studies)



Carly returns to Sonny, who masks his reliefover her return. -- General Hospital (Soap Opera Digest, May 2, 2000, p. 104)

As a child, I never could understand how my mother knew every time I told her a lie. --Marjorie F. Vargas (1986:12) Gesture. A nonverbal sign of verbal deceit, untruth, or lying.

Usage: A long-standing goal of nonverbal research has been to find reliable signs of deception. The quest is fueled by popular and scientific observations that deceit often is accompanied by unconscious signals revealing anxiety, stress, or shame while lying. Studies indicate that certain signs used when speaking (e.g., a. gaze-down and b. the rate of head and hand movements) do accompany lies. (N.B.: At the least, deception cues present probing points with which to guide inquiry regarding possible lies, much as galvanic skin resistance [see SWEATY PALMS] in tandem with physiological breathing and heart rates are used to measure autonomic stress in a polygraph test [see below, Thermal imaging].)

Caution. Nonverbal cues may be used as reliable indicators of anxiety and stress (see BASELINE DEMEANOR), but the nervousness itself does not necessarily indicate deception or lying (see below, Media).

Antigravity signs. FBI special agent Joe Navarro has observed that, from analysis of videotaped interrogations, deceivers are less likely than truth tellers to use "gravity defying" gestures--such as lifting the toes (while seated), raising upward on the toes (while standing, at the end of a sentence, e.g., to add emphasis), and raising the eyebrows--which demonstrate conviction and faith in one's own spoken words (personal communication, August 8, 2001; see below, O. J. Simpson's murder trial).

Brain fingerprinting. An experimental technique called MERMER (Memory and Encoding Related Multifaceted Electroencephalographic Responses) for detecting information related to events subjects have experienced (despite efforts to conceal that knowledge) was detailed in the Journal of Forensic Sciences ("Using Brain MERMER Testing to Detect Knowledge Despite Efforts to Conceal," January, 2001, Vol. 46, No. 1, pp. 1-9). Also known as "brain fingerprinting," MERMER is claimed to be 90-99% accurate, with 0 false-positives or false negatives. Subjects need not utter a word in the MERMER test. They are shown photographs of a crime scene, e.g., and those familiar with the scene show different brain-wave patterns than those who are unfamiliar with the scene.

Chimpanzee deception. In the broadest sense of the term, "deception" is rife in the animal kingdom. Nonpoisonous flies and snakes, e.g., may adopt the warning marks and coloration of poisonous species to seem, deceptively, more harmful than they are in fact (see also LOOM). The ability to deceive is highly evolved in primates (see below, Nonhumanprimates). Our close animal relative, the chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes), e.g., is gifted in the art of deception: 1. A young male, Dandy, withheld nonverbal cues of excitement to deceive other chimpanzees as to the location of hidden grapefruit, which Dandy subsequently consumed all by himself (Waal 1982). 2. A 9-year old male, Figan, withheld nonverbal food calls to conceal a bunch of bananas, which Figan subsequently consumed all by himself (Goodall 1986). 3. An adult male, Luit, pressed his lips together with his hand in an apparent attempt to hide the submissive fear grin he had given his rival, Nikki (Waal 1982).

Evolution. "If we speculate about the evolution of communication, it is evident that a very important stage in this evolution occurs when the organism gradually ceases to respond quite 'automatically' to the mood signs of another and becomes able to recognize the sign as a signal: that is, to recognize that the other individual's and its own signals are only signals, which can be trusted, distrusted, falsified, denied, amplified, corrected, and so forth" (Bateson 1955:40).

Literature. "If you had a hundred masks upon your face, your thoughts however slight would not be hidden from me." --Dante Alighieri (Purgatorio, CantoXV).

Media. "Another factor that makes it difficult to detect lies is that 'the fear of being disbelieved looks the same as the fear of being caught lying,' he [Dr. Paul Ekman] said" (Goleman, New York Times, C9, Sept. 17, 1991).

Nonhuman primates. In primates, "tactical deception" may include concealment, distraction, creating an image, manipulation, and deflection (Quiatt and Reynolds 1993:158-59).

Nonverbal changes. According to Mark Knapp, Judee Burgoon, and G. Miller, ". . . changes in nonverbal behavior during deception consistently occur in six behavioral categories: (a) cues indicating underlying anxiety or nervousness, (b) cues indicating underlying reticence or withdrawal (including nonimmediacy), (c) excessive behaviors that deviate from the liar's truthful response patterns, (d) cues showing underlying negative affect, (e) cues showing underlying vagueness or uncertainty, and (f) incongruous responses or mixed messages" (Burgoon et al. 1989:270).

O. J. Simpson's murder trial. 1. Listening to testimony about the location of his knit cap, Mr. Simpson visibly protested what he knew to be false. 2. Listening to testimony accusing him of the murder of his wife, Mr. Simpson showed no visible protest and remained completely motionless in his seat. 3. Why the stark contrast in his nonverbal demeanor? (N.B.: You be the judge.)

Palm-up. "Pilot studies had suggested that a particular emblem, the hand shrug [a palm-up cue] which has the meaning of helplessness or inability . . . would appear as a clue to the occurrence of deception. . . . . In this instance, we expected that the hand-shrug emblem was occurring as a nonverbal slip of the tongue, with little awareness on the part of the subject, and that it was a deception cue" (Ekman and Friesen 1972:367).

Self-touch. "We think the [hand-to-face] eyecover [of] shame expresses her main affective reaction to the two verbal themes, being hospitalized and having aggressive impulses" (Ekman and Friesen 1968:207; Author's Note: In the figure used to illustrate the eyecover cue, the subject is also gazing downward and touching her forehead with her hand).

Thermal imaging. A preliminary laboratory study by Mayo Clinic researchers (published in the journal Nature, January 3, 2002) used heat imaging to detect facial flushing around the eyes as a sign of deception. Study results showed the thermal-imaging technique to be about as reliable as the polygraph or "lie detector," which measures physiological arousal related to the fight-or-flight response. More research is planned, with an eye toward possible use in spotting terrorists at airports.

RESEARCH REPORTS: 1. Deliberate control of body movement and the mental energy required to fabricate a lie have been suggested to explain the general research finding that fewer body movements occur with deception (Vrij et al. 1966). 2. Lower rates of head nodding "are associated with deceitful communication" (Mehrabian 1972:102). 3. Three ". . . extensive reviews of the data . . . showed that several nonverbal cues are, in fact, consistently related to deception" (Burgoon et al. 1989:270). "Deceivers display increased pupil dilation [see EYES], blinking rates, and adaptors [i.e., self-touching], more segments of body behavior, and fewer segments of facial behavior" (Burgoon et al. 1989:271). 4. Paul Ekman suggests that one should ". . . never reach a final conclusion about whether a suspect is lying or truthful based solely on either the polygraph or behavioral clues to deceit" (Ekman 1992:238; italics are the author's). 5. People make "fewer hand movements during deception compared to truth-telling" (Vrij et al. 1997:97).

STUDY ABSTRACT: "Research on the detection of deception, via non-verbal cues, has shown that people's ability to successfully discriminate between truth and deception is only slightly better than chance level. One of the reasons for these disappointing findings possibly lies in people's inappropriate beliefs regarding lying behaviour. A 64-item questionnaire originally used in Germany, which targets participants beliefs regarding truthful and deceptive behaviour, was used. The present study differed from previous research in three ways: (i) instead of a student population, police officers and lay people were sampled, (ii) both people's beliefs regarding others deceptive behaviour and their beliefs regarding their own deceptive behaviour were examined, and (iii) both non-verbal cues to, and content characteristics of, deceptive statements were examined. Results were consistent with previous studies, which found significant differences between people's beliefs regarding deceptive behaviour and experimental observations of actual deceptive behaviour. Further, police officers held as many false beliefs as did lay people and finally, participants were more accurate in their beliefs regarding their own deceptive behaviour than they were in their beliefs regarding others behaviour" (Akehurst et al. 1996:461; © 1996 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.).

0 0

Post a comment