Hostility can be displayed by pulling or pinching at one’s own ears, cheeks, hair, or face. Figuratively these are actions that the hostile persons wish’s to inflict against their agitator. The gestures are “displacement signals” meaning they allow for the release of hostile thoughts through peaceful means that avoid (for the time being) direct physical conflict. In evolutionary terms, the gestures serve as overt warnings that a more damaging and dangerous bout might ensue, but offers a last ‘out’ which is the nonverbal display, before things escalate.
We might see foot jabs against the leg of a chair, against the floor or other object. A fist might be repetitively pound against the table with emphasis, or the classic fist to palm punch with some verbally threatening language such as “I’m going to smash your face in.” When something is being pounded, the object is a substitute for the foe’s face and the punch itself is a form of displacement of emotion and energy. The pounding gesture is a more aggressive form of warning, more likely to be done by men, whereas women might show less aggressive and more subtle gestures such as biting, sucking or chewing a lip or the inside of the mouth. As conflict approaches the combatants will begin to size each other up by directly facing each other, the fists will be clenched, breathing rate will increase and the chest will puff out to seem larger and more intimidating. Snarls will come from the faces of men whereas women will flash dirty looks to scold their enemies. Other signals include strong and persistent eye contact, glaring through unblinking eyes, turning red in the face and neck, cracking knuckles and overt stretching.