. Gestures and messaging
features which appear massive, magnified, and powerful--and often
dangerous or imminently threatening to the mind.
Usage: The looming phenomenon gives innate meaning to
nonverbal cues of size (see, e.g., ANTIGRAVITY
DISPLAY, and HIGH-STAND
DISPLAY; cf. CROUCH). Impressive mountains, large stones, and tall
frequently are viewed with wonder and may be considered as sacred
Evolution. "Looming, on the other hand, is more recent in evolution than the tactile crouch, and it is at base a visual response. Without eyes to see it the loom literally would make no sense. But to those with eyes, the movements and postures of expansion evoke strong, automatic reactions. Big is innately threatening to the vertebrate eye itself" (Givens 1986:163).
Literature. "It was a body capable of enormous leverage--a cruel body" (F. Scott Fitzgerald [of Tom Buchanan], The Great Gatsby).
Psychology. Our aversion to large animals or objects approaching rapidly may be innate (Thorndike 1940).
RESEARCH REPORTS. 1. A steady increase in the size of a shadow projected on a screen produced avoidance movements in fiddler crabs, frogs, chicks, turtles, and human babies (Russell 1979). 2. "Absolute size--physical bulk itself--is a key biological variable in social status and in relations of dominance and submission" (Givens 1986:147). 3. "Egyptian pyramids, for example, give iconic testimony to a pharaoh's superior status; while the Japanese bow (from the waist) bespeaks humility through feigned shortness" (Givens 1986:146).
Neuro-notes I. Nonverbal "big" threatens paleocircuits in the visual system, perhaps even within the eye itself. Movements and postures of expansion evoke a strong, automatic reaction known as the looming response, seen in birds only three hours after hatching, and in puppies at two weeks of age. At 14 days, babies will avoid a rapidly dilating shape projected to "loom" on a screen--as if they already knew the danger portended by large, moving objects.
Neuro-notes II. Mirror neurons: In art, according to art historian David Freedberg, a pictured face, body, or building can--via mirror neurons--evoke an "embodied engagement": ". . . it can simply be the weight and sheer scale that calls forth a sense of our bodies [in relation to the pictured shapes] and seems to constrain them" (source: Freedberg, David (2009). "Movement, Embodiment, Emotion," in: Dufrenne, T., and A. Taylor (eds.), Cannibalismes Disciplinaires, Quand l'Histoire de l'Art et l'Anthropologie se Rencontrent (Paris: INHA/Musee du quai Branly), pp. 37-61.), p. 38.
See also BUSINESS SUIT.
Copyright 1999 - 2013 (David B.
Givens/Center for Nonverbal Studies)
Photo of Hotel del Coronado (San Diego, California) towering over our granddaughter, Olivia Rae Givens, by Doreen K. Givens (Givens family on left; copyright 2007)