Why do we put our hands to our heads when something goes wrong

Why do we put our hands to our heads when something goes wrong

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An amateur from England on the day his team is eliminated in the semifinals.

The World Cup has left us with endless gestures like these, both on the court and in the stands.

A player shoots the bow, fails and the reaction is usually the same: hands to the head, look to the sky and face of frustration.

But this gesture is so universal that sometimes we practice it in a group , almost in an orchestrated way, in the stands and also from home.

The image below is a good example of this.

Fans in the 2010 World Cup
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Image caption The gesture is also practiced in a group by those who witness the failure situation.

This body language so common in sports also translates into other events of daily life, for example to see how something delicate falls or witness a dangerous situation when someone crosses the street.

What leads (almost) everyone to do the same? The answer has several branches of Science.

Psychology

According to Professor Jessica Tracy of the University of British Columbia, the gesture has a clear meaning.

“It’s shame,” he told the American newspaper The New York Times , which was also interested in the subject.

Ivan Persic in the match of the World Cup final against France.
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Image caption Bringing your hands to your head, according to some psychology studies, is a gesture of apology and shame.

“You know you were wrong and it’s like telling others: ‘I understand and I’m sorry, but you do not have to throw me out of the group, you do not have to kill me,’ he elaborates.

Tracy, with his colleague David Matsumoto, published in 2008 an influential study on the gestures of victory and defeat.

“The contracted body, the arms around the head that almost make you look smaller, are classic signs of shame,” says Tracy.

But why the hands to the head and not to another part of the body?

Luka modric
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Image caption Luka Modric after the defeat of Croatia in the final of the World Cup against Russia.

The explanation is offered by Dacher Keltner, professor of psychology at Harvard.

Instinctively, when human beings feel threatened or something surprises us, we raise our hands to protect ourselves . And it’s something we learn from babies, he explains.

We protect our heads in a shock or shock situation automatically because this is the most functional part of our body, says Keltner.

Zoology

The zoologist Desmond Morris also cataloged this gesture as one of the most common to express failure. But not only the failure of oneself.

The reason why those who witness the failure also take their hands to the head has to do with empathy towards the other , he says in his studies on body language.

Figures of primates
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Image caption Some primates also raise their arms and cover some part of their face as a sign of shame.

Morris also points out that this gesture is a way to seek consolation through physical contact when there is no one around who can offer us that contact.

It is also common among primates, stresses.

Variants

Although it is a universal gesture, there are also small variations, says historian David Goldblat.

Some throw their heads back and look at the sky , in search of some explanation for the bad result of our feat.

Others cover their eyes, ears or mouth. Or they cover their entire faces with their shirts, as many players do.

A fan of Argentina covering his face in the World Cup in South Africa.
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Image caption A fan of Argentina completely covering his face and lifting his hands to his head in the World Cup in South Africa.

That is an even clearer sign of embarrassment.

And a signal that we all understand.

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Rava Desk

Rava is an online news portal providing recent news, editorials, opinions and advice on day to day happenings in Pakistan.

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