In this post, we’ll discuss the various shoulder movements and what it can reveal about their mental state.
Raising the shoulders is a submissive gesture that implies some sort of apology. We shrug our shoulders when we want to communicate the message, ‘Sorry, I can’t do anything about it’ or ‘Sorry, I don’t know’ and when done along with a slight shaking of the head, ‘Sorry, I don’t understand what you’re saying’.
Also, when we have no confidence in what we’re saying or hearing, we tend to become submissive and try to ‘protect’ ourselves.
By raising the shoulders and bringing the head down, a person is protecting his neck and throat which are delicate parts of the body. We do this gesture when we hear a loud, banging sound or when we think that some heavy object is going to fall on us. Since our shoulders are strong, they can do a good job of protecting the neck should there be some kind of real danger.
Imagine a person standing alone in the middle of the night on a dark and creepy street, shivering with fear. It’s hard to imagine the person without raised shoulders and folded arms.
People who feel tense and insecure keep their shoulders raised most of the time while those who feel confident have their shoulders spread out and relaxed.
Raising the shoulders also serves to make a person appear smaller, literally and figuratively. Subordinates usually approach their superiors with their shoulders raised and when teachers are rebuking students, the latter feel small and insignificant, conveying this emotional state with their raised shoulders.
When a group of people is observing something, say hearing a speaker or watching a movie in a theater, a person who has to cross in front of them will usually raise their shoulder to appear smaller so as not to obstruct the view.
Shoulder movement: partial shrug
When you ask someone, “Do you know anything about this?” there are two possible shoulder movements the person can make along with the “No” reply. He’ll either raise both the shoulders signaling ‘Sorry, I don’t know’ or he’ll raise one shoulder more than the other making it look like a partial or single shoulder shrug.
Raising both the shoulders sharply and equally is a good indication that the person is telling the truth but a partial shrug doesn’t necessarily imply that the person is lying. Partial shoulder shrug indicates a lack of commitment or insecurity. So it should make you suspicious. It could mean that they have absolutely no confidence in what they’re saying.
To check if the person is lying, you should ask him further questions to find out the reason behind his lack of commitment or insecurity. He might be hiding something important or he might simply have a nonchalant attitude about what you asked him.
Shoulder movement: Attraction shrug
Male-female attraction is all a matter of dominance and submission. Females are attracted to dominant males and males are attracted to submissive females.
A child is the most submissive of all creatures. Many submissive attraction gestures that women do actually mimic the gestures of small children!
When women behave submissively it attracts men by triggering their pre-programmed paternal instinct to love and protect their children. Maybe that’s why when men notice an attractive woman they say things like ‘She’s such a babe’.
The attraction shrug is a female submissive gesture in which a woman raises one shoulder, turning and tilting her head towards it, sometimes touching it with the chin or the side of her face. When children do this gesture, everybody finds it cute and when grown-up females do it, they’re trying to appear attractive.
You might notice this gesture when women pose for photographs. I’ve seen many women with this pose in their profile pictures on social networks.
When someone compliments a woman for her dress, she might do this gesture and say ‘Thank you’ with added sweetness. Also, when someone she likes cracks a joke, you might notice a woman doing this gesture, smiling and looking at the person from the corners of her eyes.
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.