Body language: Pinching the bridge of nose


Pinching the bridge of the nose gesture consists of pinching the top of the nose with one’s index finger and thumb. It’s often accompanied by a lowering of the head, closing the eyes, and releasing a deep sigh. Sometimes, the person may also squeeze the skin in the area repeatedly.

Pinching the bridge of the nose means the person is overwhelmed by information. It’s an attempt to block out information from the environment and go deep into one’s own mind to deal with the overwhelming information.

Closing the eyes enables the person to cut out further information from the environment so that the mind’s eye is focused on deeply processing the overwhelming information.

You’ll notice people do this gesture when they suffer some kind of information attack.

For example, something new comes up while they were in the middle of something, they’re required to make a hard decision, or a problem reveals itself to be much more complex than previously assumed.

Releasing a deep sigh is a way to release the mental tension. The sigh is preceded by taking in a deep breath. Presumably, an attempt to carry more oxygen to the brain for the strenuous information processing required of it.

Emotional angle to the gesture

While pinching the nose bridge is sufficiently understood as the mind being overburdened by information, there’s often an emotional angle to the gesture that’s worth exploring.

For instance, the gesture may be accompanied by a ‘look of disappointment’, showing that the person isn’t happy with what they’re dealing with. This disappointment or ‘something is wrong’ feeling is often manifested in pursed lips and slight head-shaking.

Information overload causes stress. When we’re stressed, we find ways to pacify ourselves. A feeling of loss of control often accompanies stress. Holding the bridge of the nose could also be an attempt to regain a feeling of control.

Squeezing the skin in the area repeatedly is thus akin to squeezing a tennis ball, for example, to release stress and regain some sense of control. Such behaviors, when done repeatedly, also signal anxiety.

Besides stress and a general negative evaluation of a situation, another emotional angle to this gesture could be frustration.

When we’re unable to deal with what life throws at us, we feel frustrated. To connect frustration to this gesture, you should try to look for the classic ‘rubbing the back of neck gesture’ that might precede or follow it.

Physiological angle

I’ve previously talked about how scratching the nose is one of the most common negative evaluation gestures. Pinching the nose bridge could be related to the more general nose-scratching gesture.

We know that touching the forehead is a common gesture that shows mental discomfort. While the nose bridge physically bridges the forehead and the nose, it also symbolically lies at the intersection of what touching the forehead and touching the nose mean.

In other words, we can interpret the nose bridge pinching gesture as a combination of the mental discomfort of touching the forehead and the negative evaluation of nose-scratching.

When a person is aroused, the blood vessels in their nose may dilate, making the nose swell or appear redder. This releases a chemical called histamine that creates an itch, forcing the person to scratch their nose.

Now, there are many reasons for arousal. One could be aroused because they’re stressed, scared, attracted to someone, or, more superficially, because they’re lying.

This is why lie detector tests measure arousal, and some say this nasal engorgement is the basis of the Pinocchio story.

Pinching the nose bridge in this context could be a way to reduce the blood flow to the nose during arousal. Your job when you notice this gesture as an interpreter is to figure out what might have caused the arousal in the first place.