‘Hands touching the neck’ body language gesture is one of the most common gestures that we observe in our day-to-day lives. This article explores the different ways in which people touch their necks and what those gestures signify.
Rubbing the back of the neck
Ever seen two furry animals, like dogs, in a fight? If you have then you might have noticed what happens when they are about to attack each other. The fur over their neck stands on its end and makes the animals appear bigger. The bigger the animals appear the more they are able to intimidate each other.
There are special types of tiny muscles known as arrector pili. These muscles enable the fur-raising when animals are threatened and feel the need to intimidate. We humans also have these muscles and even though our fur is non-existent, we still have those ‘hair-raising’ experiences.
When we feel frustrated and angry, the arrector pili muscles on the back of our necks try to raise our non-existent fur pelt. This results in a tingling sensation.
We satisfy this sensation by rubbing the back of our necks vigorously or slapping it. This gesture is done when we find ourselves in a frustrating situation or when someone gives us a ‘pain in the neck’.
Say you’re working in your office on an important project. While you’re busy, a coworker comes by and tries to start a casual chat with you. You want him to leave because you’re busy but you don’t have the heart to tell him to buzz off as you think it might offend him.
At this point, you might start to rub the back of your neck in frustration. If he knows about body language and catches you doing this gesture then he’ll understand your nonverbal message and leave gracefully if he happens to be a decent human being.
If not, he’ll stay there and keep blabbering till you are forced to verbalize your feelings.
Scratching the side of the neck with one finger
It is accompanied by a slight tilting of the head. This gesture is done when a person does something they believe is wrong, immoral or embarrassing. We also do it in situations when someone mentions something negative about us or when we find ourselves in the middle of an embarrassing situation in public.
The person doing this gesture is non-verbally telling themselves, “I’m in deep trouble”, “I shouldn’t have done that” or “I shouldn’t have said that”.
Suppose you’re interviewing a prospective employee and you ask him, “Why did you leave your previous job?” He replies, “Well, my last boss was a jerk. I asked him for a raise and he declined.” After finishing the sentence, the look on your face tells the interviewee that you aren’t impressed by that reply.
At this point, the interviewee, realizing what a stupid reply he gave, might scratch the side of his neck using his index finger. He’s thinking, “Oops, what did I say? I’m in trouble. They won’t select me now.”
I was once watching a video of a fitness expert who was replying to emails from his fans. One fan asked him, “Hi! I tried the pull-ups exercise that you recommended. But after doing it for about a week, I pulled my stomach muscle and the doctor told me that I should discontinue working out. What should I do?”
As soon as the expert heard this, he scratched the side of his neck with his finger. After the gesture, the expert went on with his reply.
Body language experts don’t miss these kinds of gestures. Obviously, if you tell someone to do some exercise and they’re injured, you might feel a bit embarrassed. You kind of take the blame for it on yourself. After all, you recommended the exercise. You caused that injury. That’s why that expert did that gesture.
Touching the neck dimple
The suprasternal notch, also known as the neck dimple, is the hollow area between the Adam’s apple and the breastbone situated at the bottom of the neck. Touching the neck dimple with fingers and covering it means the person is feeling insecure, uncomfortable or distressed.
This gesture is common in women but men also do it sometimes.
Women also do this gesture when they’re smitten. By doing this gesture, they’re unconsciously trying to protect their frontal body and neck.
If a woman is wearing a necklace, then she might touch or hold the necklace and use it to cover her neck dimple.
Picture a woman whose son is undergoing a major operation in a hospital. As soon as the doctor comes out of the operating room, she touches her neck dimple and inquires, “How did it go, doctor? Is my son okay?”
Or picture this- a girl reveals to her friends that she’s going to marry her boyfriend next month. All her friends may go like, “Awwww” while simultaneously touching their neck dimple. They’re all metaphorically ‘smitten’ by this overwhelmingly good news!
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Hi, I’m Hanan Parvez (MBA, MA Psychology), founder and author of PsychMechanics. I’ve written 280+ articles and published one book about human behavior on this blog that has garnered over 3 million views. PsychMechanics has been featured in Forbes, Business Insider, Reader’s Digest, and Entrepreneur.