BODY LANGUAGE: PALMS AND THUMBS
by Mateo Sol
This article is part of the Beginners Guide To Body Language series, you can read the rest of the articles by clicking here.
Our palm gestures can tell more about ourselves than one would ever think. There are five types of palm gestures you should look out for:
When someone displays their palms, this is considered as a sign of honesty, openness, non threat or submission. Have you ever wondered why when someone is taking an oath, they are asked to put their right hands palm on top of a bible or heart while displaying their other hands palm in the air facing the court/judge? When we want to appear honest we unconsciously display our palm/s to show we’re not holding any hidden weapons, or anything back, while stating things like “I’m telling the truth!” or “I didn’t do it!” You’ll notice that when someone is opening up to you about something, they might put their hands on the table to display their full palms or at least part of them. The simple gesture of palm display intuitively gives us the sensation that the person is being honest with us.
As adults, when someone feels deceptive, uncomfortable or out of place, they will put their hands into their pockets (just imagine your typical shop lifting thug wearing a hoodie) or cross their arms to hide their hands.
If someone is using their palms which face directly downwards, this is a gesture of authority or superiority, and is used when a person is trying to take control and dominate another person. The most memorable example of such use is the Nazis salute during the Third Reich. Can you imagine Hitler making his salute palm turn upwards? It would be ridiculous and nobody would have listened to him. The most common example of the downwards palm gesture that you will find in the modern times by observing couples holding hands. If the couple have their hands vertically side by side, this means their relationship is equally balanced, but if there is a dominant/overly protective person in the relationship, that person (usually the male) will walk slightly in front of the girl, his hand will be on top meaning his palm is facing backwards while the girls in facing forwards.
Closed Palm Pointy Finger:
This is the “Do As I Say!‘ or “Go That way” gesture. As this gesture is closed and downwards it is a sign of authority. This can be seen when you ask for directions and the person points towards the place you have to go since they have the authority of knowledge – it is also commonly used when telling someone something to do like “Go to your room” or “Go to the principals office“. This gesture is also commonly used by public speakers trying to convince the audience of their opinions because they are authorities in the subject and the rest of us are all children who need to be told what to do. Since this gesture is found offensive now by many (it’s considered an insult in the Philippines and Malaysia to point), public figures and politicians have been advised to replace the pointing gesture with the index finger-thumb squeeze “Okay” gesture to look more subtle and less bossy.
Thumbs have always been used as a sign of superiority. Apart from our close relatives the apes and monkeys, we are the only living creatures who posses thumbs allowing us to use tools, weapons and be able to manipulate objects with exact precision (even the simple act of writing…the passing of knowledge to new generations wouldn’t have been possible without thumbs). Thanks to our thumbs we have been able to evolve into the advanced state we now exist in, making us the supreme beings on the planet. Thumbs are usually used in three contexts: Dominance, Assertiveness and on the rare occasions, Aggressiveness. Thumb display can often be seen in people of confidence, and aristocratic or powerful people posing for photos or paintings.
When we think of Napoleon, the first image that usually comes to mind is a midget with his hand inside his jacket while displaying his thumb. Thumbs have many and varied uses: from Julius Caesar who decided the fate of the Gladiators lives with a single thumb, to models showing off clothing – many times posing with their hands in the pockets of their jeans or jacket while displaying the thumbs, as well as lawyers who hold their unbuttoned jackets with their thumbs pointing up in a snobby way. Many men who are flirting with women will put their hands in their pants back pocket while still display their thumbs, as though they were trying to hide their dominant attitude. And what about the men who use their thumbs to point towards a direction with an assertive dominant attitude, e.g. “How about you and me get out of this place *points with thumbs towards the door* and go get a coffee?” Thumb pointing even extends to ridicule, increasing feelings of superiority, e.g. “Check out that guy in the white shirt – the idiot has his zipper undone“.
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