Nonverbal Cues

The thing that numbs the heart is this:
That men cannot devise
Some scheme of life to banish fear
That lurks in most men's eyes
. --James Norman Hall, Fear

Emotion. A usually unpleasant, visceral feeling of anxiety, apprehension, or dread.

Usage: Fear shows in a. an exaggerated angular distance, b. release of apocrine odor, c. increase in breathing rate, d. trembling and chattering teeth, e. crouching, f. crying, g. displacement gestures, h. a faster eye-blink rate, i. the fear grin, j. widely opened flashbulb eyes, k. flexion withdrawal gestures, l. the freeze reaction, m. the hair-bristle, n. an accelerated heart rate, o. tightened muscle tension (esp. in muscles innervated by special visceral nerves, e.g., trapezius), p. screaming, q. squirm cues, r. staring eyes with enlarged pupils, s. sweaty palms, t. tense-mouth cues, u. the throat-clear, v. an audibly tense tone-of-voice, and w. yawning.

Art. Completed in 1893, the staring eyes and open mouth of the terrified face in The Scream, by Norwegian artist Edvard Munch, has become a cultural icon of humankind's ambient level of fear.

Food, fear of. According to SUNY-Stony Brook psychologist Alexandra Logue, "This [innate] fear of new foods is to protect us from something that might be poisonous . . ." (Hall 1992:C10; see TASTE CUE).

Media. We so enjoy fear that the most portrayed movie character is Bram Stoker's Count Dracula. To date, over 155 representations of the character have appeared on the screen (McFarlan 1990:165).

RESEARCH REPORTS: 1. Signs of fear include standing like a "statue motionless and breathless," crouching down, violent heartbeat, pale skin, cold sweat, erect hair, trembling muscles (esp. the lips), hurried breathing, dry mouth, yawning, catching of the throat, dilated pupils, rigid muscles, and protruding eyeballs (Darwin 1872:290-92). 2. Fear shows most clearly in the eye area (Ekman, Friesen, and Tomkins 1971). 3. In vertebrates, nonverbal responses to fearful (i.e., potentially harmful) stimuli include escape, avoidance, hiding, wary watching, immobility, freezing, cowering, clinging, and cessation of general activity (Russell 1979). 4. Facial expressions of fear emerge in human infants between five and seven months of age (Burgoon et al. 1989:349).

Evolution. Fear is a mammalian elaboration of the sympathetic nervous system's fight-or-flight response.

Neuro-notes. Nuclei of the amygdala play key roles in the mediation and expression of fear (LeDoux 1996).


YouTube Video: Watch a 58 second clip of a baby's fear-face cues. (Watch the eyes and startle response. Mommy's nose is scary.)

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)