Gesture. 1. Rotating the head horizontally from side-to-side a. to disagree, or b. to show misunderstanding of a speaker's words. 2. In an emotional conversation, a rhythmic, side-to-side rotation of the head to express disbelief, sympathy, or grief.
Usage: The head-shake is used to demonstrate a.
cognitive dissonance, or b. emotional
Anatomy. Longus colli and splenius rotate the head from side-to-side, in tandem with sternocleidomastoid. The latter's prehistory as a branchiomeric muscle (originally used for respiration and feeding) makes it responsive as a "gut-reactive" sign of refusal (see below; see also SPECIAL VISCERAL NERVE).
RESEARCH REPORTS: 1. The head-shake is a universal sign of disapproval, disbelief, and negation (Darwin 1872; according to Morris [1994:144] it is "widespread"). 2. The first nonverbal nay-saying may occur when babies head-shake to refuse food and drink. Rhesus monkeys, baboons, bonnet macaques, and gorillas similarly turn their faces sideward in aversion (Altmann 1967). 3. Children born deaf and blind head-shake to refuse objects and to disapprove when being touched by an adult (Eibl-Eibesfeldt 1973). 4. Evasive action shows in sideward head movements of young children to avoid the gaze of adults (Stern and Bender 1974). 5. A single sharp turn to one side (e.g., the Ethiopian head side-turn) can express negation as well (Morris 1994).Neuro-notes I. Mirror neurons: Mirror neurons for head-shaking are found in the human brain's superior temporal sulcus. (Source: Thagard, Paul . The Brain and the Meaning of Life [Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press].)
Neuro-notes II. Mirror neurons: "In the first weeks after birth [and '. . . probably subserved by the mirror [neuron] system . . .' (p. 21)] infants have been documented by experimental studies to imitate a variety of gestures, such as . . . head rotation . . ." [p. 24; source: Braten, Stein, and Colwyn Trevarthen (2007). Chapter 1: "Prologue," in Braten, Stein (Ed.), On Being Moved: From Mirror Neurons to Empathy (2007; Amsterdam: John Benjamins), pp. 21-34].
See also CUT-OFF, HEAD-NOD.
Copyright 1998 - 2013 (David B. Givens/Center for Nonverbal Studies)