Nonverbal Cues

. 1. Folding the arms over the lower chest or upper abdomen, with one or both hands touching the biceps muscles. 2. A common resting position of the arms upon and across the torso. 3. A self-comforting, self-stimulating posture, unconsciously used to alleviate anxiety and social stress.

Usage: Though often decoded as a defensive barrier sign, the arm-cross represents a comfortable position for relaxing the arms, e.g., while speaking, as well. With arms and elbows pulled tightly into the body (i.e., flexed and adducted), the gesture may reveal acute nervousness or chronic anxiety. Held less tightly against the chest, with elbows elevated and projecting outward (away from the body, i.e., abducted), the arm-cross presents a guard-like stance, suggestive of arrogance, disliking, or disagreement.

U.S. politics. Arm-crossing has been analyzed as a "classic defensive stance" in the April 11, 1988 Time magazine cover picture of Democratic presidential nomination hopeful Jesse Jackson (Blum 1988; see also Blum's analysis of the gesture as used in world politics).

RESEARCH REPORTS: 1. In conditions of severe crowding, the frequency of arms crossed in front of the body touching at the crotch "greatly increased" (Baxter and Rozelle 1975:48). 2. A report summarizing studies of North American college students found a. that women use open arm positions with men they like, but cross-arms with men they dislike (men, on the other hand, show no difference); and b. that women show uneasiness by crossing their arms (while men do not; Vrugt and Kerkstra 1984). 3. "Folding arms may indicate protection against some sort of verbal or nonverbal attack" (Richmond et al. 1991:62). 4. Arm-cross is a worldwide posture that means, "I feel defensive" (Morris 1994:5).

Neuro-notes. For the neurology of arm-crossing, see SELF-TOUCH.

Synonyms--Fold arms (Grant 1969), fold (Brannigan and Humphries 1972). See also HANDS-ON-HIPS, STRANGER ANXIETY.

YouTube Video: How artists view the arm-cross.

Copyright 1998 - 2016 (David B. Givens/Center for Nonverbal Studies)
Drawing of "Showing My Nonverbal Side" by my son Aaron Huffman (copyright 2012 by Aaron M. Huffman)