Cut-off Marks an Argument

Body movement. A form of gaze avoidance in which the head is turned fully away to one side.

Usage: In a conversation, a sudden cut-off gesture may indicate uncertainty or disagreement with a speaker's remarks. Sustained cut-off may reveal shyness or disliking.

A personal reflection. Cut-off is a form of nonverbal shunning. To shun is "To avoid deliberately; keep away from" (Soukhanov 1992, p. 1674). "Shun" comes from Old English scunian, to abhor. My former daughter-in-law has shunned me off and on (now on) for years, and I can tell you it is quite painful. As Sword and Zimbardo (2013) write: ". . . let's say you notice someone you haven't seen in a while and want to say hello and catch up. You are sure they saw you. So you make a beeline toward them, but they do an about-face and walk in the opposite direction. You spend hours or days--maybe longer--trying to figure out what you did to warrant being ignored, or worse being rejected. This really hurts when that other person is someone you thought liked you, accepted you, and maybe even ideally respected you" (italics added by me).

Salesmanship. One signal of a prospect's skepticism: "Looking suddenly up and to the side" (Delmar 1984:46).

RESEARCH REPORTS: 1. Facing away is a reaction to spatial invasion (Sommer 1969). 2. "After the host and the various guests embraced, they backed off and one or both always looked away. [Adam] Kendon calls this the cut-off and thinks it may be an equilibrium-maintaining device [to re-establish a proper level of intimacy]" (Davis 1971:46). 3. ". . . we have repeatedly seen in normal 3- to 4-month-old infants extreme head aversion function to terminate intrusive maternal behavior" (Stern 1974:188-89). 4. "In all cases [in the presence of strange adults] boys turn their heads away to the side more than do girls" (Stern and Bender 1974:241). 5. Gaze aversion "increased dramatically" in conditions of crowding (Baxter and Rozelle 1975:46).

E-Commentary: "Do you know if there's been any research on whether you can read anything on intent from the direction someone glances when they look away during a conversation? I had a client who's a reporter tell me she believes it's an indication of deceit for someone to glance to their right (as if looking into the future and searching for their words) as opposed to glancing to their left (as if searching the past to make sure their words are accurate.) Is this a bunch of crap, or is there something to that [see CLEM]. I promised her I'd ask you." --L.G., Senior Communications Consultant, USA (11/19/99 2:14:15 PM Pacific Standard Time)


Copyright 1998 - 2016 (David B. Givens/Center for Nonverbal Studies)
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