Humans as defensive mechanisms have always had the need to hide behind something in search for protection. With children, it was behind tables, chairs or our parents if we saw a scary looking dog, but around 7 we knew hiding wasn’t possible anymore, so we would cross our arms quite tightly when throwing tantrums. In our adolescence we’d cross our arms more subtly and also combine this defensive gesture with crossing our legs and finally, as adults, we’ve found even less obvious ways of giving us that security and protection we so badly crave.
- Crossed Arms: This is when the arms are neatly folded across the chess to protect the heart, lungs and other vital organs as well as breasts in most women’s cases. We will usually cross our arms when we feel nervous, negative towards something/someone or are feeling defensive (such as when someone is making fun of our top/dress. and we cross our arms in response). Monkeys have also been observed to do the exact same gesture when they feel they are in a threatening situation. You can commonly see the crossed arms gesture in public meetings amongst strangers, elevators, cashier shopping lines or any place where we feel insecure or uncertain of our surroundings.
- Crossed Arms With Fists: If, as well as crossing their arms, the person has clenched fists as well, this is a strong sign of hostility as well as defensiveness as mentioned in my Palms & Thumbs article. This combined gesture is an aggressive and attacking attitude that you should watch out for. This gesture is often times found in jobs that require hostility and defensiveness, such as bouncers or policemen standing guard (patrolling policemen rarely cross their arms as they have a weapon for protection, which is enough. The same goes for anyone wearing a body armor, they’ll never cross their arms).
- Self-Reassurance Cross: This gesture is when someone crosses their arms while tightly grabbing their biceps or elbows. The self-reassurance cross is a display of a fearful, negative, restrained or insecure attitude. Ever wondered where the fetus position came from? It’s the ultimate act of physical self-reassurance whereby we use our knees and legs to protect our vital organs and body locking our tightly held position with our arms and lowering our vulnerable neck (predators went for our necks). You can commonly find such self-reassuring gestures in hospital/doctor waiting rooms, airport lounges with first-time travelers or defendants at courtroom hearings.
- Arm Crossed With Thumbs: Also mentioned in the Palms and Thumbs article, displaying the thumbs is the sign of a superior or self-confident attitude. This gesture can often be seen in situations when someone is feeling they are cool and in control while still maintaining a level of protection with the crossed arms just in case. This can also be seen in exams for instance, where the student feels confident about his abilities to answer correctly yet still feels a bit threatened by something going wrong.
- One Crossed Arm: This type of body shield is a single arm crossing the chest and grabbing or touching the bicep or elbow of the opposite arm. As young children, our parents would embrace or hug us when we were going through distressful moments, so as adults we try to recreate that same comforting feeling by doing it ourselves. This action resembles a self-hug and is more popular amongst woman than men. You can also often find this arm gesture in social group situations where one of the individuals is a stranger to the group and feels a lack self-confidence.
- Self Holding Hands: This type of arm gesture is the male version of the predominantly female ‘One Crossed Arm’ gesture mentioned above, and is used by men who are insecure or lack self-confidence in a certain situation. You can find this pose in some men who are waiting to speak in front of a big crowd and are nervous, at funerals, and can also be observed in homeless men standing in line to await a plate of food or to receive a social security benefit. This arm gesture is also popular among men who feel the need to protect their “Family Jewels” as a form of security to unconsciously avoid receiving a frontal blow. More obvious examples of this are soccer players making a barrier in front of a free shot from the opposite team. Adolf Hitler only had one testicle so he regularly adopted this position (or at least with only one arm protecting the jewel
s) when in public to mask the sexual inadequacy he felt.
- Subtle Arm Crosses: People of high status such as politicians, celebrities or people in high positions can’t afford to look nervous or unsure about themselves as they are constantly in the limelight – they cant walk around crossing their arms or walk around with their hands in front of their crotch, so instead, they choose subtler ways of crossing arms and achieve that secure feeling once more. Men will go for things like adjusting their watches or shirt cufflinks, to fiddling with their ring if they have one, scratching their wrists, checking inside their wallets or looking at their mobile phones, or anything that brings the arms in front of the body when they feel nervous and in full view of others (e.g. entering parties, new crowds, walking through wedding dance floors, etc.) Women, however, have a bigger advantage as they often carry accessories for when they feel self-conscious or insecure. Many women use their purse as a barrier for instance. Women also have more jewelry to ‘adjust’ and fiddle around with. At clubs, for instance, you can notice that some people hold their drinks with two hands instead of one – unless it’s a cold winters night and the cup has some warm tea, this action is rather pointless. A popular arm gesture that men and women do alike is when sitting at a table opposite of you, they may place their glass/cup on the opposite side of the arm they use to move it – this way, they have to cross one arm in front of their body to reach it and can remain with their arms crossed in front of you while touching the glass.
Other Arm Gestures
Some of the other arm gestures you will find used on a daily basis are the following:
- Superman: Used by bodybuilders, models and popularized by Superman, this arm gesture can have several different meanings depending on how it is used. In the animal kingdom, animals appear bigger when they feel in danger or feel threatened. This is a survival technique against fellow predators. Take a simple house cat for instance, and notice how their bodies will rise, their fur will stand up and their legs will stretch when they are alarmed by something. Humans are also believed to have the same primitive defense techniques, though not so noticeable, we have reactions such as “goosebumps” thanks to the erectile pillae in our skin coming from our ancestors who used to be hairier and who, in moments of fear or vulnerability, would experience the same “goosebump” sensations that would make their hair slightly rise. Interestingly, goosebumps also occurring during love. Because we can’t appear larger anymore with such primitive survival techniques, we have developed arm gestures such as resting our Hands On Our Waist, which is actually called the Readiness Gesture because it indicates the person is about to act assertively, in a slightly aggressive and competitive way. Usually, if you go to a gym you’ll see someone standing in front of a machine staring while using this pose, or an Athlete before an event displaying this pose, as well as a wife nagging at her husband with one hand on her hip (one hand or two has the same meaning), and also a guy flirting with a girl trying to appear assertive in his decision of picking her. This gesture should be read in a group as I mentioned in my initial article as having the head sideways gesture for example, while doing the superman gesture indicates submissiveness or they are ‘ready to be told what to do’. In a group of gestures, the superman can also be interpreted as trying to protect one’s chest and feeling frustrated with what is happening, if, after putting their legs together (paying attention) and zipping up their jacket, they do the superman pose. The Superman, as a readiness gesture, is frequently used by runway models who want to display that the clothes they’re wearing are only for the assertive fashionistas.
- Package: Similar to the above readiness gesture, only this gesture isn’t carried out to make ourselves appear larger. In fact, the elbows are tilted inwards and the hands rest on the belt or pants pockets by using the thumbs as leverage. Predominantly used by men, this arm and hand gesture is used to direct the woman they are interacting with to their crotch by using their hands as highlighters of that area. This is also considered as a dominant gesture used by men to appear fearless, and is commonly seen at local bars or pubs by men and sometimes women while flirting.
There are others types of arm movements and gestures, but I’ve refrained from going into the more advanced ones. One last simple and common gesture that occurs frequently in daily life is while hugging. Many times the following gesture goes unnoticed as a sign of affection but in reality, it’s the total opposite. When you watch two people hugging you’ll notice sometimes one of them starts tapping the back of the other with one hand. This is mistaken as a warm affectionate pat on the back when it fact it’s signaling to the other person that they want to end the hug already! If you pay even closer attention you’ll observe that some people who don’t feel like hugging at all will enter a hug already doing the back pat movement.