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Stroking can take on many forms and depending on context can indicate the need for comfort.

Stroking can take on many forms and depending on context can indicate the need for comfort.

Emotional body language can arise anytime the hands touch the face, neck, shoulder, arm, hand, or leg as a direct response to negative events. These negative events can be anything from an embarrassing or sexist joke, being put on the spot, having to present to an audience or being asked a difficult question. When viewing emotional body language keep in mind that men tend to touch their faces more often, whereas women prefer to touch their hair, arms, neck, clothing or jewelry. Men also tend to be more aggressive with their gestures and will tend to cup their necks just below their chins or will stroke the back of their necks with their fingers. They might also be seen adjusting their tie or a shirt collar when no such adjustment is required. On the other hand women will grab or play with a necklace or cover the part of the neck just below the Adam’s apple and above the breast bone. Emotional manipulation can serve to calm by reducing blood pressure and lowering the heart rate.

Like most emotional body language they serve to pacify the body to make it feel better by stimulating nerve endings to release calming endorphins. For example, while in deep thought, the temples might be massaged with one or both hands, the head might be scratched and when facing extreme difficulty the hand might reach around and grab the back of the neck depicting a negative thought stemming from emotional discomfort, frustration, doubt, insecurity or restraint. Rubbing the forehead is an evaluative body language gesture, but it also signals an internal struggle where slight to severe discomfort is being experienced. Exhaling air forcefully through a compressed mouth can also be a pacifying message especially when done by a smoker, since it reminds him of a habit that calms him. We mentioned chewing gum as a displacement gesture earlier, but even it is an oral pacifier especially if the rate of chewing intensifies.

Some other examples of pacifiers include smoking cigarettes, licking the lips more, rubbing the chin, stroking their face, playing with pens, pencils, lipstick, pulling the hair or scratching the forearms or more subtly like brushing the hair, adjusting a tie (preening), or checking or playing with a watch seemingly results driven and purposeful.

Some people have even been known to talk to themselves to make peace and are otherwise perfectly normal and sane. These gestures usually find their way into the repertoire of people and become favourites. That is, they will use the same ones each time when they become tense making it easy for us to read them accurately.

When viewing these gestures keep in mind that they may ebb and flow in real-time to the level of threat present. For example, imagine a tense negotiation between a couple who are making plans for their honeymoon vacation. The wife might be seen cupping her arm under her elbow to support her arm covering her suprasternal notch while the husband clasps the back of his neck in a restraint posture. As he concedes she might drop one or even both arms, but without a concession from her of some sort, he might remain negatively locked or might place his arms crossed on his chest. Sensing this, she might agree to a compromise, or if she doesn’t, may stimulate him to ramp up his agenda futher sending her back into an emotional state where she might begin fingering her necklace by playing with it.