The NonVerbal Dictionary of Gestures, Signs & Body Language Cues

Love Signals II

"In short, my son, note her every action and movement. If you report to me faithfully all these things, I shall be able to make out the hidden secret of her heart and discover how she feels with regard to my love; for I may tell you, Sancho, if you do not know it already, that among lovers exterior signs of this sort are the most reliable couriers that there are, bringing news of what goes on inside the heart." --Miguel de Cervantes (Don Quixote, 1605:566)

Courtship. Any of several nonverbal signs exchanged during the second or recognition phase of courtship.

Usage: In courtship's second stage, men and women seek nonverbal responses to signs beamed out during the earlier attention phase (seeLOVE SIGNALS I). E.g., a man's bid for attention ("I am here!"--"I am male!") is followed by efforts to determine, "Do you see me?"Recognition cues thus provide information about having been seen. They are the afferent (incoming) body signals received in response to theefferent (outgoing) cues already sent.

Body responsePositive recognition signs include a. body alignment (e.g., aiming or squaring the upper body with a partner), b. rapid eye-blinkc. facial flushing (N.B.blush applied to a woman's cheeks simulates the red, rosy glow of sexual attraction as well), d. gaze-crossing (i.e., sweeping the eyes back and forth across a partner's view field--without actually looking or seeming to notice his or her presence--to test a willingness to be looked at), e. submissive gaze-downf. head-toss, g. isopraxism (e.g., mirroringpostural echosynchrony), h. anxiousself-touchingi. shoulder-shruggingj. smiling, and k. nervous yawning. Negative recognition cues include a. cut-off (i.e., sideward gaze-aversion or angling the upper body away ["cold shoulder"], and b. no reaction (i.e., the most cutting cue of all: no response [see BLANK FACE]).

Responsive eyes. As primates, we respond to changes in gaze direction, and in courtship, concern with eyes and eye contact is extreme. At a singles bar, e.g., eyes dart about and make rapid saccadic movements as they bounce from face to face in the crowd. Even a fleeting glance may suffice to answer the question: "I am female!" . . . Did you notice?.

Responsive pupils. One of our tiniest cues, pupil size, is measured with a pupillometer. The device detects dilation when we view attractive men and women, but constriction when we view threatening or disliked people. Studies show that, while pupil size itself is out of awareness, dilation can be a tell-tale recognition cue (Hess 1975). (N.B.: That enlarged pupils unconsciously telegraph sexual interest was appreciated by European women, who once dilated their eyes artificially with belladonna, a cosmetic extract of the nightshade family.)

RESEARCH REPORTS1. A study summarizing research on North American college students found a. that women and men aligned upper bodies midway between direct (i.e., frontal) and indirect (i.e., turned 90 degrees away) with liked partners; and b. that women assumed open arm positions with men they liked and crossed arms with disliked men (men did not show these signs; Vrugt and Kerkstra 1984). 2. "The next stage is recognition [Givens 1978], or what Scheflen (1965) calls courtship readiness. If the response of one party . . . is a stare, blank face, negative facial expression, or orienting away, that ends it" (Burgoon et al. 1989:325).

E-Commentary: "You omitted the sexual cue a woman gives to a man when she fluffs her hair while looking at him. It's a phenomenon noted in all the body language books. Gets me going every time." --P.W. (6/13/01 2:52:44 PM Pacific Daylight Time)

Neuro-notes. As with many recognition signs, the hypothalamus plays a role in pupil size. The hypothalamus coordinates our sympathetic nervous system's fight-or-flight response, over which we have little conscious control. Eye contact with an attractive woman or man thus registers as emotional stimuli pass from the posterior hypothalamus (Guyton 1996) downward to sympathetic nerves in the spinal cord (T1-2), which control our pupil's dilator muscle. Mutual gaze brings people together quickly and powerfully, as the physical distance separating them seems to close. As we lock eyes with a lovely face, information flows from visual areas of the cerebral cortex to the hypothalamus, which influences our sexual behavior as a "prime node" (LeVay 1993:60, 81). (N.B.: Mutual eye-contact is important in the courtship of our primate relatives, as well. In marmosets, e.g., males must meet a female's attention-phase stare with several seconds of returned gaze before mating can occur [LeVay 1993:60].)


Love Signals, by David Givens