Nonverbal Cues

Hark, the dominant's persistence till it must be answered to! --Robert Browning (Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, 1979)

No two men can be half an hour together but one will acquire an evident superiority over the other. --Samuel Johnson (Boswell's Life, 1776)

Status signal. The exercise of influence, power, or control over another.

Usage: Dominance shows in such nonverbal signals a. the business suit, b. the eyebrow raise, c. the hands-on-hips posture, g. the head-tilt-back cue, h. the palm-down gesture, i. the swagger walk, j. the table-slap, k. a lower tone of voice, and l. the wedge-shaped broadside display. Dominance cues may also be used to express a confident mood.

RESEARCH REPORTS: 1. Aggressive elements include the head brought forward toward another person, chin out (i.e., pushed forward), wrinkled skin on the bridge of the nose, and "A sharp movement of the head towards the other person" (Grant 1969:530). 2. "Dominance [in tree shrews] is more subtly expressed by the displacement of subordinate animals from the rest boards or food trays . . ." (Sorenson 1970:160).

Evolution. Signs of dominance evolved from offensive body movements derived from the fight-or-flight response, and are expressed through displays designed to make the body seem more powerful, threatening, and "bigger" to the eye (see ANTIGRAVITY SIGN and HIGH-STAND DISPLAY). Dominance cues may be used to express anger as well.

Nonverbal dominance. "The role of nonverbal dominance is so important among some primate species that it at times eclipses real physical dominance in demarking social structure. Consequently, leading primatologists make use of the terms real dominance to describe when one ape physically dominates another (as in a fight) and formal dominance to describe the nonverbal rituals associated with dominant and submissive animals (de Waal, 1982)" (Ambady and Weisbuch 2010, p. 467).

Neuro-notes. The archistriatum (the "most ancient" striatum, i.e., the amygdala of the basal ganglia) and paleostriatum (the basal ganglia's "ancient" striatum or globus pallidus) evolved to show reptilian dominance and submission through programmed movements and postural displays (MacLean 1990). In a dominant or aggressive pose, we unthinkingly square our shoulders and stand tall. The basal ganglia assist in this threatening posture through fiber links of the ansa lenticularis, which reach downward to hindbrain paleocircuits of the pontine reticular excitatory area, which descend, in turn, to spinal-cord circuits that excite antigravity muscles of our neck, back, shoulders, and legs. Configured to expand--i.e., to loom "larger" in relation to gravity and the terrestrial plain--our dominance clearly shows in body movements and postures.


Copyright 1998 - 2016 (David B. Givens/Center for Nonverbal Studies)
Drawing of "Me, Being Nonverbal" by my son Aaron H. Huffman (copyright 2012 by Aaron H. Huffman)