Shouldershrug Display

I think it captures his personality perfectly because it shows his vulnerability. --Linda McCartney (describing musician Tim Buckley)

Global bodymovement. Identified by Charles Darwin in1872, an interrelated set of 13 body motions, from the head to the toes, used worldwide to show helplessness, resignation, and uncertainty.

Usage: Individually or in combination, signs from the shoulder-shrug display (e.g. head-tilt-side, shoulder-shrug, and pigeon-toes)--suggest feelings of resignation, powerlessness, and submission. In courtship and rapport, the cues show harmlessness and friendly intent, thus inviting physical approach and affiliation.

Constituents. The shoulder-shrug display involves the entire body in a visual crouch. As described by Darwin (1872), the display consists of 1. raised shoulders (elevated; trapezius and/or levator scapulae muscles contracted), 2. head-tilt sideward (lateral flexion), 3. elbows bent and held into the body (flexed and adducted), 4. upraised palms (forearms supinated; see PALM-UP), 5. palm-show (wrist extended), 6. open hand (digits extended), 7. fingers spread (abducted), 8. eyebrows raised (frontalis contracted; see EYEBROW-RAISE), and 9. mouth opened (digastric and suprahyoid contracted; see JAW-DROOP). A century later, 10. pouted lips (mentalis contracted; see LIP-POUT), 11. knock-knees (tibial torsion), 12. bending forward at the waist (flexion, slight bowing; see BOW), and 13. pigeon-toeing (toes angled in) were added to the display (Givens 1977).

Origin. The shoulder-shrug display incorporates defensive crouch movements from the protective tactile withdrawal reflex.

Media. In TV news reports, as she approached, gazed at, and spoke to "commoners," England's Princess Diana flexed her shoulders forward and tilted her head to the side, thus showing compassion for those beneath her station. (N.B.: Nonverbally, Lady Diana connected by curtseying back.)

Neuro-notes. Socioemotional stimuli for shrug-display cues involve the forebrain's amygdala (LeDoux 1995, 1996) and basal ganglia (or "reptilian core"; MacLean 1990). Submissive feelings find expression in coordinated muscle contractions designed to bend, flex, and rotate parts of our axial skeleton and appendicular skeleton, to "shrink" the body and show a harmless "lower" profile. (N.B.: Unlike the highstand display, diverse motions of the shrug complex were designed for defense rather than for offense-for self-protection in the physical world, as well as for self-protection in a social world mediated by signs, signals, and cues.)

Copyright © 1998 - 2001 (David B. Givens/Center for Nonverbal Studies)

Photo of Tim Buckley in Central Park, by Linda McCartney (copyright 1992 by MPL Communications Limited)



But I am bursting from a doubt within if I do not free myself from it. --Dante Alighieri (Purgatorio, Canto XVI)

Shadows, gray ripples of doubt and discomfort, suddenly appeared and moved just beneath the surface of his pale eyes. -George C. Chesbro (Shadow of a Broken Man, 1977:8)

Emotion. A cognitive feeling of indecision, misgiving, or doubt.

Usage: Uncertainty shows in a. involuntary sideward eye movements called CLEMS; b. self-touch gestures; c. frowns; d. hand-behind-head cues; e. side-to-side head-shakes; f. head-tillt-side, g. lip-pout, lip-purse, and tense-mouth; h. palm-up gestures; and i. the shoulder-shrug.

Observation: Barely visible fragments of the above signs may reveal uncertainty (see PROBING POINT).

Salesmanship. "The prospect's finger to the side of his nose is a fairly sure sign of doubt" (Delmar 1984:46).

RESEARCH REPORTS: 1. Signs of deep and "perplexed reflection" include the frown (contraction of the corrugator or "muscle of reflection"); downward-cast eyes; touching the forehead, mouth, or chin; and beard-pulling (Darwin 1872:220-26). 2. "In states of perplexity men will rub their chins with their hand, or tug at the lobes of their ears, or rub their forehead or cheeks or back of the neck. Women have very different gestures in such states. They will either put a finger on their lower front teeth with the mouth slightly open or pose a finger under the chin" (Montagu 1971:208). 3. "The huu of puzzlement, surprise, or slight anxiety is directed toward such things as small snakes, unknown creature rustlings, dead animals, and the like. This sound is made even when if a chimpanzee is alone" (Goodall 1986:131).

Evolution. Feelings of uncertainty demonstrate a link between emotional and cognitive (i.e., "thinking") modules of the primate brain.

Neuro-notes. An uncertain feeling is a secondary emotion a. mediated by the emotional limbic system (esp. the amygdala and anteriorcingulate gyrus), and b. linked to cognitive thought processes via circuitry in prefrontal, sensory, and association modules of the cerebral cortex (Damasio 1994).

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