The NonVerbal Dictionary of Gestures, Signs & Body Language Cues


People sometimes perceive my shyness as my being aloof. --Julia Barr (Brooke, All My Children, quoted in Soap Opera Digest, May 2, 2000, p. 128)

Status. The act of acknowledging, complying with, or surrendering to the power or will of another.

Usage: Submission shows in a. an exaggerated angular distanceb. body-bendbody-shift, and bowingc. displacement cues; d. facial flushinge. freeze reactionsf.gaze-downg. give-way; h. head-tilt-sidei. isopraxismj. laughingk. palms-upl. exaggerated personal distancem. pigeon toesn. shoulder-shruggingo. shyness;p. the Steinzor effectq. higher vocal pitch; and r. yawning. (Note the considerable overlap between expressions of lower status and fear.)

RESEARCH REPORTS1. Submissive or flight elements include evade (sharp head or shoulder movements away from another), chin in (tucked strongly into chest),mouth corners back, lip licks, lower lip out, lower lip tremble, lips in, and swallow (Grant 1969:528-30). 2. Submissive acts in young children include cry, scream, rapid flight, cringe, hand cover, flinch, withdraw, and request cessation (Strayer and Strayer 1980).

Courtship. Submissive cues show that one is "approachable" (see LOVE SIGNAL). 

Salesmanship. "Thus, the focus of the first moments of the meeting is to demonstrate to the prospect that you are an inoffensive, likable person, and this is not going to be an uncomfortable hard sell" (Delmar 1984:44-5).

Evolution. Submission originated from an ancient, biological tendency to flee from danger (see FIGHT-OR-FLIGHT). Nonverbal signs (e.g., crouching postures and diminutive size displays) evolved to mimic the visual act of escape (i.e., of increased physical separation between bodies, which then seem "smaller" through the optical illusion of distance). In mammals, submission elaborated as feelings of inferiority evolved in tandem with signs of lowered social status (see MAMMALIAN BRAIN).

Transexuality. The loss of male hormones ". . . made me more retiring, more ready to be led, more passive" (Morris 1974:152).

Neuro-notes. Through vertebrate eyes, big is interpreted as "dangerous" while small deciphers as "safe" (see LOOM). The amygdala and basal ganglia of the forebrain play important roles in the expression of submissiveness.


Drawing of "Showing My Nonverbal Side" by my son Aaron Huffman (copyright 2012 by Aaron M. Huffman)