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January 05, 2013

Why we clench fist after victory?

"The Rock" clenching fist
As a behavioral researcher, I continuously ask questions to myself about human behavior, expressions, gestures, movements and displays. Sometimes, we've to look back in our evolutionary history to find their answers and the meanings hidden behind them.

After arriving on a concrete conclusion about something, We all yell "Gotcha!" and blow our fists in the air. Almost every victorious person or winner does it, irrespective of the kind competition or contest.

Although we express the moment of victory, advantage or achievement through this gesture unconsciously, I always wondered exactly why we all might be doing it in the first place, until writing this very article about the same.

I think that the victory display i. e. clenching fists after victory has something to do with our long history of hunting and battling. It's hard to understand the victory display in today's modern context so need to shift our attention to the era when our ancestors used to fight, hunt or defend themselves with sticks, bows, spears and stones.

Ancestors might have invented this aggressive gesture to derogate a rival, attacker or predator in the first place. After watching an individual in reptilian high stand and ready-to-attack posture, a rival, attacker or predator party would hardly like to risk itself by engaging anymore in the fight with the person.

Our ancestors: Hunters, gatherers, protectors and fighters

Even if wounded or paralyzed, as a final attempt, a rival, attacker or predator could attack and injure its target. The target would require more energy to make any major physical movement or maneuver in defending itself and swiftly moving away from the rival, attacker or predator to some place safe but all alone.
Even less energetic or fierce attacks by the rival, attacker or predator might make a difference between survival and death if target's already wounded or exhausted. Hence the target has to do something to shock and scare the rival, attacker or predator in more dramatic way using less amount of energy.

You can imagine the effect of clenching fist and waving it by a group.

This so called victory display cluster i. e. an upright body posture, targeted hand movements, body orientation, directed gesturing, fierce facial expressions, unbearable sound and jumping in air helps in achieving the same. Target tries to show itself bigger in overall size to scare away the attacker. Hence exuberance generated through this display can benefit to the target.

Hooting chimpanzee
Also, same display can be observed in primates. Primates also exercise this kind of victory display even though some of their species can't use or handle tools like us. They have been observed using sticks to beat the ground for threatening away rivals during combative situations.

Along with them, they also throw stone, tree leaves and wines in their direction. As like human yelling, they round their lips and hoot loudly. Overall, combined behavioral cluster is enough to startle and scare away the rival.

After invention of swords and guns, same maneuver found its way in medieval. As we see in many war movies, a victorious warrior or a troop raises weapon in front of defeated enemy and yells fiercely. It might serve two purposes i.e. to let other know who's victorious and frighten or run enemy away from the battle area.

Today, most of us don't carry sticks, bows, spears and stones in our hands during fights while but yelling, howling and blowing fists in the air upon winning or getting advantage has stayed with us in this modern era as an behavioral heritage.

Aamir Khan on the set of Hindi TV Serial - Satyamev Jayate

Unconsciously, we choose this display after gaining a victory or an advantage to demoralize our rival. In absence of weapons, we clinch our fist, rise it and wave it in air. We also do it in group to prepare ourselves for fight. In that case, we boost our morale by anticipating a victory. Mirroring this victory display induces enthusiasm in group.

[#Special Thanks to the world's leading, respected and critically proven Body Language expert, Nonverbal Communication pioneer and my Guru Sir Joe Navarro (retired special agent, Counter-Intelligence Supervisor and Spy-Catcher who served in FBI for 25 years) for personally reviewing this article and sharing his own views which has resulted into several valuable additions and enhancements.]

Related articles:
1) Survival of Communicator 2) Evolution of Nonverbal communication 3) "The expression of emotions in man and animals" 4) Gestures - Are they learned or genetic? 5) Power Postures

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