Mobility of the Muscles

I have always tried to render inner feelings through the mobility of the muscles . . . --Auguste Rodin

You're the hardest guy to get anything out of. You don't even move your ears. --Vivian Regan to Philip Marlowe (The Big Sleep, 1939:60)

As an actor, Jimmy was tremendously sensitive, what they used to call an instrument. You could see through his feelings. His body was very graphic; it was almost writhing in pain sometimes. He was very twisted, almost like a cripple or a spastic of some kind. --Elia Kazan, commenting on actor James Dean (Dalton 1984:53)

Concept. Any of several changes in the physical location, place, or position of the material parts of the human form (e.g., of the eyelids, hands, or shoulders).

Usage: The nonverbal brain expresses itself through diverse motions of our body parts (see, e.g., BODY LANGUAGE, GESTURE). That body movement is central to our expressiveness is reflected in the ancient Indo-European root, meue- ("mobile"), for the English word, emotion.

Anatomy. Our body consists of a jointed skeleton moved by muscles. Muscles also move our internal organs, the areas of skin around our face and neck, and our bodily hairs. (When we are frightened, e.g., stiff, tiny muscles stand our hairs on end.) The nonverbal brain gives voice to all its feelings, moods, and concepts through the contraction of muscles: without muscles to move its parts, our body would be nearly silent.

Anthropology. Stricken with a progressive spinal-cord illness, the late anthropologist, Robert F. Murphy described his personal journey into paralysis in his last book, The Body Silent. As he lost muscle control, Murphy noticed "curious shifts and nuances" in his social world (e.g., students ". . . often would touch my arm or shoulder lightly when taking leave of me, something they never did in my walking days, and I found this pleasant" [Murphy 1987:126]).

Confidence. "The physical confidence that he [Erik Weihenmayer, 33, the first blind climber to scale Mount Everest] projects has to do with having an athlete's awareness of how his body moves through space. Plenty of sighted people walk through life with less poise and grace than Erik, unsure of their steps, second-guessing every move" (Greenfeld 2001:57).

Media. In movies of the 1950s, such as Monkey Business (1952) and Jailhouse Rock (1957), motions of the pelvic girdles of Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley, respectively, had a powerful influence on American popular culture.

Salesmanship. "Your walk, entering and exiting, should be brisk and businesslike, yes. But once you are in position, slow your arms and legs down" (Delmar 1984:48).

RESEARCH REPORT: "A nonverbal act is defined as a movement within any single body area (head, face, shoulders, hands, or feet) or across multiple body areas, which has visual integrity and is visually distinct from another act" (Ekman and Friesen 1968:193-94).

E-Commentary: "I am searching for the piece of influential advice that will help one of my employees to communicate in a positive way nonverbally. Her boredom and impatience are so evident. She shifts in her seat, rolls her eyes, and sighs during meetings. It is disturbing to her co-workers and bad for morale. I have explained to her it is not appropriate. She replies she can't hide the way she feels. On the other hand, she wants to keep her job. So what can I do to get through to her before she loses her job?" --T., USA (4/17/00 8:40:04 PM Pacific Daylight Time)

Neuro-notes I. Many nonverbal signals arise from ancient patterns of muscle contraction laid down hundreds of millions of years ago in paleocircuits of the spinal cord, brain stem, and forebrain.

Neuro-notes II. Mirror neurons: "[Giacomo Rizzolatti's] discovery of mirror neurons is one of the major discoveries of the last 20 years in neuron science because it taught us several different lessons. One is . . . the appreciation that one has in one's brain, the capability of understanding another person's action, that when somebody does something, your own nervous systems goes us [sic] as if you're carrying out the action yourself although your hand doesn't move." (Source: Comments by Eric Kandel on PBS's "Charlie Rose Show" ("The Social Brain," January 10, 2010); [accessed December 19, 2012]; copyright 2010 Charlie Rose; transcription copyright 2010 CQ Transcriptions, LLC)

Neuro-notes III. Mirror neurons: ". . . associations naturally occur among the motor, somatosensory, vestibular, auditory, visual, and other inputs when a movement is executed. It is hypothesized that linking the observation of movement (visual input) to extant motor representations such that later observed actions can retrieve these stored patterns automatically can explain how the mirror neuron system develops" [Source: Pineda, Jaime A. (2008). "Sensorimotor Cortex as a Critical Component of an 'Extended' Mirror Neuron System: Does it Solve the Development, Correspondence, and Control Problems in Mirroring?" Behavioral and Brain Functions, 4:47 (Web document: [accessed March 1, 2013])].


YouTube Video: "I have always tried to render inner feelings through the mobility of the muscles." Watch a one minute video showing Auguste Rodin's sculpted body movements, frozen in time.

Copyright 1998 - 2016 (David B. Givens/Center for Nonverbal Studies)
Detail of illustration from The Visual Dictionary of the Human Body (p. 22; copyright 1991 by Dorling Kindersley, Inc., 95 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10016)