Nonverbal Cues

His hands were resting on the edge of my desk. The giant fingers of the right hand found the fingers of the left, interlocked, and squeezed; a knuckle popped. I was glad I wasn't in the middle. --George C. Chesbro (Shadow of a Broken Man, 1977:10)

Sign. 1. A movement, gesture, or posture involving the end(s) of the finger(s). 2. Specifically, a. the position of the fingertips in space, or b. the points of physical contact made by the tactile pads with material objects, clothing, or body parts (esp. with the lips and hands; see HOMUNCULUS).

Usage: Isolating on the hand reveals an incredibly high level of activity in our fingertips: they rarely keep still. Due to dense concentrations of nerve endings, fingertips have evolved as tactile antennae with which to explore the material world. When we feel anxious or upset, our hypersensitive pads unthinkingly reach out to stimulate, caress, and console tender areas of the body (see SELF-TOUCH). Because our fingers are nerve-linked to speech areas of the brain, their movements often reflect unvoiced thoughts and concealed opinions as well (see DECISION GRIP, MIME CUE, and STEEPLE).

Salesmanship. "You shake hands; you hand the prospect your card; you hand him brochures, pictures, samples, things that have to be unfolded, unrolled, opened" (Delmar 1984:44).

OBSERVATION: Though they provide reliable clues about what we think, how we feel, and where our attention lies, we take fingertip movements largely for granted. At a critical meeting, interview, or interrogation, however, they deserve special notice. "Depend upon it," Sherlock Holmes told Watson, "there is nothing so unnatural as the commonplace" (A Case of Identity).

Neuro-notes. Mirror neurons: "In the first weeks after birth [and '. . . probably subserved by the mirror [neuron] system . . .' (p. 21)] infants have been documented by experimental studies to imitate a variety of gestures, such as . . . finger movements . . ." [p. 24; source: Braten, Stein, and Colwyn Trevarthen (2007). Chapter 1: "Prologue," in Braten, Stein (Ed.), On Being Moved: From Mirror Neurons to Empathy (2007; Amsterdam: John Benjamins), pp. 21-34].


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