Nonverbal Cues

But I am bursting from a doubt within if I do not free myself from it. --Dante Alighieri (Purgatorio, Canto XVI)

Shadows, gray ripples of doubt and discomfort, suddenly appeared and moved just beneath the surface of his pale eyes. --George C. Chesbro (Shadow of a Broken Man, 1977:8)

Emotion. A cognitive feeling of indecision, misgiving, or doubt.

Usage: Uncertainty shows in a. involuntary sideward eye movements called CLEMS; b. self-touch gestures; c. frowns; d. hand-behind-head cues; e. side-to-side head-shakes; f. head-tillt-side; g. lip-pout, lip-purse, and tense-mouth; h. palm-up gestures; and i. the shoulder-shrug.

Observation: Barely visible fragments of the above signs may reveal uncertainty (see PROBING POINT).

Salesmanship. "The prospect's finger to the side of his nose is a fairly sure sign of doubt" (Delmar 1984:46).

RESEARCH REPORTS: 1. Signs of deep and "perplexed reflection" include the frown (contraction of the corrugator or "muscle of reflection"); downward-cast eyes; touching the forehead, mouth, or chin; and beard-pulling (Darwin 1872:220-26). 2. "In states of perplexity men will rub their chins with their hand, or tug at the lobes of their ears, or rub their forehead or cheeks or back of the neck. Women have very different gestures in such states. They will either put a finger on their lower front teeth with the mouth slightly open or pose a finger under the chin" (Montagu 1971:208). 3. "The huu of puzzlement, surprise, or slight anxiety is directed toward such things as small snakes, unknown creature rustlings, dead animals, and the like. This sound is made even when if a chimpanzee is alone" (Goodall 1986:131).

Evolution. Feelings of uncertainty demonstrate a link between emotional and cognitive (i.e., "thinking") modules of the primate brain.

Neuro-notes I. An uncertain feeling is a secondary emotion a. mediated by the emotional limbic system (esp. the amygdala and anterior cingulate gyrus), and b. linked to cognitive thought processes via circuitry in prefrontal, sensory, and association modules of the cerebral cortex (Damasio 1994).

Neuro-notes II. Not everyone considers uncertainty to be an emotion, as I myself and Jerome Kagan (What Is Emotion?: History, Measures, and Meanings [New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 2007]) do. An argument in favor is emotional uncertainty's involvement in the shoulder-shrug display. Like the muscles that activate our facial expressions, the upper trapezius muscles that activate our shrugs are linked to emotional brain modules via special visceral efferent, rather than by somatic, nerves.


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