The NonVerbal Dictionary of Gestures, Signs & Body Language Cues


After Nora busted up Lindsay's wedding to Bo, the secretly pregnant Lindsay was psychotic with rage against Nora. --One Life to Live (Soap Opera Digest, May 2, 2000, p. 25)

Emotion. A usually unpleasant feeling of annoyance, resentment, or rage.
Usage: Anger shows in a. jaws tensed to a biting position; b. postures of the broadside display (e.g., hands-on-hips); c. cut-off and head-jerk cues; d. fisthand-behind-head, and palm-down beating gestures; e. frowning and tense-mouth expressions; f. growling voice tones; and g. staring.

Anatomy. In the face, motion energy maps reveal that anger shows most prominently in contortions around our eyebrows for frowning.Corrugator supercilii muscles, blended with occipitofrontalis and orbicularis oculi, draw the eyebrows down, as if to shield our eyes, producing vertical furrows above the nose. At the same time procerus, blended with occipitofrontalis, produces horizontal wrinkles over the bridge of our nose. Anger shows in contracted obicularis oris and masseter muscles (of the tense-mouth, e.g.) as well.

Culture. In Italy, the forefinger bite--in which "the knuckle of the bent forefinger is placed between the teeth and symbolically bitten"--means, "I am angry" (Morris 1994:81).
Evolution. Anger is a mammalian elaboration of earlier vertebrate behavior patterns a. for fighting and b. for the display of dominance.
Literature. "The youth exclaimed with sudden exasperation: 'He's a lunkhead! He makes me mad.'" --Stephen Crane (The Red Badge of Courage)

Primatology. "Males [i.e., wild baboon males] often launch charges and attacks without any preliminary threat gestures" (Hall and DeVore 1972:169).

RESEARCH REPORTS: 1. Signs of anger include body held erectcontracted browscompressed mouthflared nostrils, and "flashing eyes"(Darwin 1872:242-43). 2. Anger shows most clearly in the lower face and brow area (Ekman, Friesen, and Tomkins 1971). 3. Facial expressions of anger emerge in human infants between three and four months of age (Burgoon et al. 1989:349). 4. After a feeling of anger ". . . there may be angry vocalization and pugilistic behavior, with the arms flailing somewhat like those of a fighting chimpanzee. Or there may be gorilla-like hooting and striking of the chest" (MacLean 1993:79).

Neuro-notes1. ". . . the threshold for release of noradrenaline [the anger hormone] to psychological stimuli is generally higher than that of adrenaline [the fear hormone]" (Mayes 1979:37). 2. The amygdala of the limbic system plays a key role in the organization and expression of anger (LeDoux 1996).


Photo of Raphael Palmeiro testifying before a U.S. Congressional hearing on March 17, 2005. Note the slightly lowered brows, staring eyes, and pointing index finger--aimed at committee members--as Palmiero says, "I have never used steroids. Period. I don't know how to say it any more clearly than that. Never" (Givens 2008:10). (Picture credit: unknown.)