Non-verbal communication: Evaluation gestures

When we are receiving audio-visual information, like hearing someone speak or watching a documentary, we tend to make what are known as the evaluation gestures. These gestures involve touching the chin and the cheek in various ways.

To understand the different kinds of evaluation gestures let us consider a hypothetical scenario in which you are taking part in a study where you have to listen to a presentation. Since the context has already been provided, you’ll understand the meaning of different evaluation gestures in an easy way. As the presentation progresses, your emotional state will change and so will your gestures.


So, here you are, listening to this man who’s delivering a presentation on economics. As you start to listen to this guy, you realize that he has something important to say. Maybe it was the way he opened his talk. You are very receptive of the information this guy has to provide. How is this ‘willingness to evaluate’ mental state of yours reflected in your body language?

You place the thumb of your one hand below the chin to support it very lightly while the fingers of the same hand are curled in a fist-like position in front of the chin, except the index finger. The index finger lightly rests on the cheek and points upward. Sometimes index and the middle finger both pointing upwards as they rest on the cheek. The elbow is usually kept in position by the palm of the other hand or it simply rests on a table.

man listening intently

You are fifteen minutes into the presentation when boredom starts to set in. Of course, one can’t listen and evaluate intently when one is bored. So it means your body language has to change to convey your bored emotional state and it does.


At first, you are slightly bored, still trying to figure out if the speech is really boring or is it you who isn’t paying attention. At this point, you’ll rest your chin on your thumb in a strong way as if preventing your head from falling down as you fall asleep. Note that when you were listening intently, that time also you supported the chin on your thumb but it was a ‘light’ support, not the one you would use to prevent your head from falling down.

Gradually, the speech becomes more and more boring and now you have no doubt that the speaker is a boring prick hell-bent to suck the life out of you. Your boredom has increased and so have your odds of falling asleep. So you need a stronger support for your head to prevent it from falling down. The thumb is not enough.

Now you rest your chin on the entire palm of your hand. To make the palm available, you have to change the fist-like position of the fingers in front of your chin. This is accomplished by resting all the fingers on the cheek. The index finger is now happy. It has got company. The fingers might get all cozy and assume the curled fist-like position again but this time not in front of the chin but on the side of the face.

woman bored
‘Somebody get me out of here’

This is extreme boredom. This gesture may be accompanied by frequent yawning and an indifferent, sad expression on the face. A person who wants to hide his boredom might even put up a fake smile.

Finally, the presentation is over and you are given an evaluation sheet to evaluate the performance of the speaker. The sheet consists of a list of multiple choice questions. As you go through the exercise you are likely to do a gesture that is the commonest evaluation gesture out there- stroking the chin.

man making a decision


We stroke our chins when we evaluating something and are required to make a decision based on that evaluation, for example, choosing the most appropriate answer in a multiple choice question. Note how all the above gestures we discussed involved some kind of chin touching. Chin touching is synonymous with evaluation. Even in the state of extreme boredom, we are evaluating, no matter how reluctantly.

As a speaker, it always helps to know how your audience is feeling and for a teacher the degree of interest displayed by the students can be the crucial determining factor whether or not the students have grasped the concepts. Even in interpersonal conversations with friends, relatives, and co-workers, knowing the emotional state of the listener can have many benefits.
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