Hand Gestures - Affect Displays (Part 2)

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Welcome to the second part of affect displays.

In this part I want to focus on gestures and signals that reveal sexual attraction, nervousness and hidden objections.

Attraction through self touch gestures

Physical attraction in body language is a whole set of signals that’s often manifested in “illogical” or “bizarre” ways.

For example, a girl might pick on a boy in the school yard because she really likes him and wants to get his attention, not because she likes to hit boys.

With this in mind, let’s look at another “weird” aspect of attraction - self touch gestures.

Such actions often reveal nervousness, insecurity or discomfort - all negative emotions. But when it comes to attraction they’re actually a good sign (if you’re the target of such displays of course).

So what special about these hand gestures? They either:

1. Stimulate the desired touch and physical intimacy. Such actions done mostly subconsciously.


2. Preening actions that suppose to emphasize our “good parts”.

In both cases, the maker of such actions is usually a female who are much more adept than men in sending and receiving non verbal cues.

What kind of gestures am I talking about? some examples:

  • Hand gestures to the face, especially touching or pulling the lips

  • Hand gestures to the neck - emphasizing its length and smoothness. it’s a submissive signal, just like a wolf exposing his throat to show his surrender to the pack leader.

  • Touching the legs - drawing attention to another very attractive feature of the female body.

How come that these same signals that often mean anxiety and tension, suddenly signal attraction? well this is possible because:

  • Physical attraction is exciting but also tense, sometimes the border between the two can be hard to identify - this is why we often attracted to a bad boy\girl attitude - they excite us even though we know it’s wrong.

  • When a female intentionally sends such signals, she wants the man to think her as vulnerable and “innocent” - what wakes strong paternal protective feeling which can be exploited.

In any case, because it can be so hard to identify whether it’s insecurity, coy, submissiveness, attraction or some mix of them, you need to be extra careful when trying to interpret such behavior.


Preening is an interesting gesture, because it’s an action we make for others - we want to look better and more “orderly”, but it’s often a reaction to certain emotions.

The most obvious use of the preening gestures appear when we see someone attractive - we automatically try to look our best:

1. We correct or adjust our clothes

2. Remove any linen or cover stain spots.

3. Straighten up  and elevate our head

4. Increase muscle tone to appear more healthy and fit.

Image Source

5. Women will flick their hair to reveal their neck and create the flowing motion of their hair.

6. Men will puff their chest up and try to appear more masculine and “manly”, they’ll even expose some muscles or use the crotch display

But preening can be also a reaction to negative events - when we hear something we don’t really like, we want to dismiss it by distracting ourselves in another action - such as pretending to preen: we pick up invisible lint, move the hand through our head or adjust our collar and tie.

These actions are not actually necessary, but they allow us a temporary relief from the negative source by maintaining a  “productive” image.

This is why if you spot someone unnecessarily picking invisible lint and looking away while you speak - you can be sure that there’s a hidden concession in that person’s mind.

Preening can also be a very natural reaction to stressful events which we will discuss in adaptors.

Moving On

The next part in hand gestures we're going to talk about is regulators, our unwritten rules for making a coherent conversation. Start here - Regulators Part 1

Or as always, you can jump to any other part if you like:

Hand Gestures - Basics

Emblems (Part 1 | Part 2)

Illustrators (Part 1 | Part 2)

Affect Displays (Part 1 | Part 2)

Regulators (Part 1 | Part 2)


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