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January 05, 2013

Why we clench fist after victory?

"The Rock" clenching fist
As a 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 secrets and hidden meanings behind them.

After arriving on a concrete conclusion about something, I yell "Gotcha!" and blow fist in air like a victorious person. Though we express our victory or achievement through this gesture unconsciously, I wondered why we do it in the first place.

I think victory display i. e. clenching fists after victory has something to do with our long history of hunting and battling. Gone are the days 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 rivals or predators at first hand. After watching an individual in reptilian high stand and ready-to-attack posture, opposite party would hardly like to risk itself by engaging in fight anymore with the person.
Our ancestors - hunters, gatherers, protectors and fighters
Even if wounded or paralyzed, as a final attempt, rival or predator could attack and injure its target. Target would require more energy to make physical movements in defending itself. Even less energetic or fierce attacks by rival or predator might make a difference between survival and death if target's already wounded or exhausted. Target has to do something to shock and scare rival or predator in more dramatic way.
You can imagine the effect of clenching fist and waving it by a group.
This so called victory display cluster - an upright body posture, targeted hand movements - positioning - 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 also liked with 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. They also throw stone, tree leaves and wines in their direction. As like human yelling, they round their lips and hoot loudly.

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 - run away enemy from battle area.
Today, we don't carry weapon in our hands while moving but yelling, howling and blowing fists in the air upon winning and getting advantage has stayed with us as an evolutionary heritage.
Bollywood actor 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 Sir Joe Navarro (Ex-FBI Counterintelligence agent and Pioneer in nonverbal communication) for reviewing this article and sharing his own views.]

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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