Friday, June 16, 2023

Body Language Analysis №4698: Donald Trump's Neck of Fear



After being arraigned and arrested on Federal charges this week, this image of Donald Trump during a subsequent golf outing not only gives us a peek into his psyche, but it also provides an excellent example of a particular body language behavior commonly displayed, but rarely described in the nonverbal literature:

The Neck of Fear.


At first glance of this photo, a body language novice might say that Donald Trump is displaying a fairly good ‘Social Smile’ — but they would be oh-so wrong.

We can’t see Trump’s forehead — and a relaxed (non-contracted) forehead is a requirement for a sincere smile. His eyelids are partially closed and he does have concave-up furrows in each of his lower eyelids (another requirement for a sincere smile) — however …


…When we examine the configuration of his mouth and the area around his mouth, we see elements of insincerity, disgust, and indeed, fear. The corners of Trump’s mouth are stretched primarily laterally, not upwards (as we would expect, had his smile been sincere). 


This more lateral (vs upward) pull of mouth corners, not only indicates insincerity — it’s also consistent w/ the emotion of Fear (note accompanying semi-circular furrows of cheeks indicative of laterally-pulled mouth corners, not present w/ true smiles of joy-happiness). 


The lateral vectoring of the corners of his mouth is underscored by the evanescent horizontal lines in Trump’s ‘mustache region’ (the tissue above his upper lip and below his nose).

The tightening of the tissue in Trump’s mustache region along with the nearly-always simultaneous nostril-flaring gives this pseudo-smile an element of disgust — thus, these dynamic facial characteristics are collectively sometimes referred to as a ‘Disgust Smile’ — which is a surprisingly common variation of a social smile. This is a default smile (pseudo-smile) for many people.

Let’s look further…

Trump’s jaw is jutting outward (extended forward). A jaw jut is another dead-giveaway that a smile is being feigned and that there are important underlying emotions present (emotions which are contradictory to joy-happiness). During sincere smiles, the jaw is retracted.

A Jaw Jut is a sign of heightened adrenaline. Trump is in the middle of a round of golf, and while this activity does take some physical effort, we’d perhaps expect to see a jaw-jut in the midst of a club-swing — not whilst posing for a picture. Let’s dig further…

If we look at Trump’s neck we can see two sets of muscle contractions at work:

• The tenting-up of the skin of the neck (indicating a contraction of the Platysma muscle)

• The ‘rope-like’ appearances indicating simultaneous contraction of the sternocleidomastoids.

Try replicating this neck appearance on yourself right now. The Platysma muscle (superficial anterior aspect of the neck) lies just beneath the skin (it’s very thin and flat) — and tightening it will give this tented (‘bowstring’) appearance to the neck.

(The platysma muscle also extends above the jaw-line to the lower portions of the face and outward/downward to the deltoids and the upper portions of the pectoralis major muscles).

Tightening one’s sternocleidomastoids will give rise to the neck having a component of a rope-like appearance — also seen in this photo of Trump.


When they do contract, it’s common that both the sternocleidomastoids and the platysma muscles will contract together, however, you may notice the effect of one of these being more prominent at any particular time. We see both of these effects in this image of Trump.

It’s very common that during microexpressions/near-microexpressions of fear, we see very brief contractions of these neck muscles (in such evanescent scenarios, these events more typically involve the Platysma muscle and not the sternocleidomastoids).

*Thus, if we’re observant, during moments of fear, we’ll often see the highly-characteristic and extremely-brief tenting-up of the platysma neck muscles — without any signs of fear on the face.*

Although it’s impossible to see w/out an accompanying video, due to the magnitude of Trump’s contraction of both his platysma & sternocleidomastoids, this dynamic probably was of significantly longer duration — an indirect but reliable signal of a deeper level of fear.

A Jaw Jut + Laterally Vectored mouth corners + teeth displayed + a Neck of Fear may cause you to ask, “Is Trump in pain?” and/or “Is this a ‘grimace’ expression?” And that would be an astute question — however, in this example, Trump is not in pain. Here’s why…

If this were an expression of pain, Trump would be:

• Displaying lower teeth also
• He would not be displaying concave-up furrows in his lower eyelids
• Additionally (but not required here) if we could see his forehead, we’d see an Elevated Central Forehead Contraction

So an important take-home point here is that a “Neck of Fear” configuration can also be “Neck of Pain” display — and this is always an important though-emotion to consider, however, it’s just not the case in this moment with Trump.


Now look at Trump’s “Thumbs-up” gesture (illustrator). Note his thumb is hyper-extended (bent backward) in the middle (at the interphalangeal joint).

Only the distal portion of his thumb is directed upward — while the remainder of the thumb (second/distal phalanx) ‘wants to stay down’/unextended.

This is a reliable sign that the conscious component of this behavior (the second/distal phalanx pointing upward) is in disagreement with the subconscious component (the first/ proximal phalanx staying unextended) of the thumb.

This subtle, yet classic thumb-contradictory signal (commonly seen displayed by politicians) is a quintessential manifestation of cognitive-emotional dissonance. Trump displays this behavior often.

A True/sincere thumbs-up signal is a classic display of optimism. In this example (a feigned thumbs-up), it appears simultaneously with a feigned smile (a fear-disgust pseudo-smile). Both body language behaviors are manifestations of deceptive thought-emotions.


Moreover, notice how low Trump is holding his forearm. His elbow is flexed enough only to elevate his hand to the level of his waist — nor is his forearm raised to a level parallel with the ground (his forearm is angled toward the ground).

If Trump had been enthusiastic (and sincere) regarding a ‘Thumbs-up’ sentiment, his forearm would not be directed down — rather, it would be pointed upward (at a positive slope, relative to the ground).

Indeed, the higher the Thumbs-up gesture is held (relative to one’s body), the greater the tendency for the facial expression in that same moment to be in agreement with sincere optimism and joy-happiness. In this example, neither nonverbal behaviors are sincere.

Just as a person can tell lies with their words, they can try to tell lies with their body language too (which may be conscious or subconscious displays). Such nonverbal deceptions are ubiquitous. 

Recognizing the difference between sincere behavior and feigned behavior is crucial (whether it’s nonverbal, verbal, or paralanguage) in avoiding criminal behavior, manipulation, deception, financial loss, heartache, abuse, or worse.


As a separate observation, Trump either has some food in his ‘teeth’, or, it’s more likely that he is using a new/different oral prosthesis (or he uses a different oral prosthetic device when he’s golfing).

SUMMARY: Donald Trump’s display of a classic ‘Neck of Fear’ is a reliable barometer of his mental-emotional state after his first Federal Criminal arrest and arraignment this week. Trump’s mouth also displayed fear (along with a component of disgust).

Moreover, Trump’s thumbs-up gesture contains signals of cognitive-emotional dissonance — AND any true thumb’s-up display is contradictory to (and in dissonance with) a feigned smile (said another way, both behaviors [the ‘smile’ and the ‘thumbs-up’] are deceptive here).

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This post and others accompanying it, serve as a reference source for the art and science of Body Language/Nonverbal Communication. The views and opinions expressed on this website are those of the author. In an effort to be both practical and academic, many examples from/of varied cultures, politicians, professional athletes, legal cases, public figures, etc., are cited in order to teach and illustrate both the interpretation of others’ body language as well as the projection of one’s own nonverbal skills in many different contexts.