See also Palmdown Reptilian Brain

Copyright © 1998 - 2001 (David B. Givens/Center for Nonverbal Studies) Illustration detail from Getting There (copyright 1993 by William Howells)



I'm an eccentricity specialist. --Michael Richards (Kramer on Seinfeld)

Neuro term. 1. A sudden, involuntary movement made in response to a touch, an unexpected motion, or a loud noise. 2. A set of automatic protective movements designed to withdraw the body and its parts from harm.

Usage: Many defensive postures and submissive gestures (e.g., diverse movements of the shoulder-shrug display) derive from paleocircuits of the mammalian startle. Its status as a reflex explains why human beings (in all cultures) a. blink and grimace; b. flex the neck, elbows, trunk, and knees; and c. elevate the shoulders when feeling physically, emotionally, or socially threatened (Andermann and Andermann 1992:498).

Media. Eccentric twisting, plunging, blinking, and flexing spasms made from 1989-98 by Seinfeld TV character, Cosmo Kramer are typical of people with an exaggerated startle response. Increasing with anxiety and fatigue, the startle underlies such culturally recognized "startle syndromes" as Indonesian latah, Japanese imu, and Lapland's Lapp panic (Joseph and Saint-Hilaire 1992:487-88).

RESEARCH REPORTS: The startle reflex is related to the Moro or "clamping" reflex of young primates, which includes a. arm, leg, and spinal-column extension movements; b. head bowing (over the chest); and c. crying (McGraw 1943:19). Present in the human fetus after 30 weeks, the startle is predominantly a flexor reflex, possibly rooted in the primitive orienting response (Joseph and Saint-Hilaire 1992:487).

Neuro-notes. Sudden movements, looming objects, or bright lights trigger midbrain optic centers which automatically turn our faces and eyes toward what could be dangerous--before the forebrain knows, on a conscious level, danger even exists. The midbrain's auditory lobes, meanwhile, are reflexively attuned to changes in sound. Located just below the optic-center lobes, these pea-sized areas control our auditory startle. Picked up by the cochlear nucleus, a scream received by the auditory lobes triggers the amygdala and circuits of the reticulospinal tract to activate the startle. Thus, recoiling from a karate yell, e.g., is a primal response prompted by paleocircuits of the amphibian brain.


Copyright 1999, 2000 (David B. Givens/Center for Nonverbal Studies) Detail of publicity photo (copyright 1998 by People Weekly)



People sometimes perceive my shyness as my being aloof. --Julia Barr (Brooke, All My Children, quoted in Soap Opera Digest, May 2, 2000, p. 128)

Status. The act of acknowledging, complying with, or surrendering to the power or will of another.

Usage: Submission shows in a. an exaggerated angular distance; b. body-bend, body-shift, and bowing; c. displacement cues; d. facial flushing; e. freeze reactions; f. gaze-down; g. give-way; h. head-tilt-side; i. isopraxism; j. laughing; k. palms-up; l. exaggerated personal distance; m. pigeon toes; n. shoulder-shrugging; o. shyness; p. the Steinzor effect; q. higher vocal pitch; and r. yawning.

(Note the considerable overlap between expressions of lower status and fear.)

RESEARCH REPORTS: 1. Submissive or flight elements include evade (sharp head or shoulder movements away from another), chin in (tucked strongly into chest), mouth corners back, lip licks, lower lip out, lower lip tremble, lips in, and swallow (Grant 1969:528-30). 2. Submissive acts in young children include cry, scream, rapid flight, cringe, hand cover, flinch, withdraw, and request cessation (Strayer and Strayer 1980).

Courtship. Submissive cues show that one is "approachable" (see LOVE SIGNAL).

Salesmanship. "Thus, the focus of the first moments of the meeting is to demonstrate to the prospect that you are an inoffensive, likable person, and this is not going to be an uncomfortable hard sell" (Delmar 1984:44-5).

Evolution. Submission originated from an ancient, biological tendency to flee from danger (see FIGHT-OR-FLIGHT). Nonverbal signs (e.g., crouching postures and diminutive size displays) evolved to mimic the visual act of escape (i.e., of increased physical separation between bodies, which then seem "smaller" through the optical illusion of distance). In mammals, submission elaborated as feelings of inferiority evolved in tandem with signs of lowered social status (see MAMMALIAN BRAIN).

Transexuality. The loss of male hormones ". . . made me more retiring, more ready to be led, more passive" (Morris 1974:152).

Neuro-notes. Through vertebrate eyes, big is interpreted as "dangerous" while small deciphers as "safe" (see LOOM). The amygdala and basal ganglia of the forebrain play important roles in the expression of submissiveness.

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