Nonverbal Signs of Aggression

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

Sometimes it's really easy to tell when someone is angry and other times it may be more difficult to spot. This lesson goes over some of the many potential nonverbal signs of aggression so you can better spot an angry person.

Angry People

Picture this: You are at the local supermarket and as you get to the checkout line there is a big guy who is screaming obscenities at the top of his lungs at the poor checkout clerk. He also says something about snapping someone's neck off. What can you say about this man? In one word: angry. That guy is really ticked off at something.

In this example, it's easy to identify that he is angry based on his loud voice and the words he's using. But we all know that anger involves a lot more than verbal cues. Sometimes nonverbal signs of aggression are quite obvious and other times they're not because, as you probably know, some people fester and stew in their anger and it may not be all that obvious that they are angry.

So, let's go over some of the nonverbal signs of aggression so you can better spot an angry person without the person exhibiting clear signals.


First, let's make clear what we mean by nonverbal signs of aggression. Nonverbal signs of aggression include:

  • Eye contact and movement
  • Facial expressions
  • Gestures
  • Posture
  • Physiological responses (those which a person is largely unable to control when they're angry), we'll get to that in a second.

Some people will categorize changes in voice and tone as nonverbal signs of aggression as well.

Nonverbal Signs of Aggression

Tone & Eyes

So, let's go back to that crazy guy in the supermarket. His loud and fierce voice are clear verbal cues that point to the fact that he's angry. But pay closer attention. What are his eyes doing? They are glaring. In other words, they are really wide. So wide, you can see the whites of his eyes around his iris (the colored portion of the eye).

However, not all angry people have wide eyes. Some people, when angry, actually narrow their eyes (think of the evil eye look). Other people, when angry, actually try to avoid eye contact all together.

Facial Expressions

Now look at the man's facial expressions. Can you see how his inner eyebrows are lowered and there's a deep crease between his eyebrows? Angry looking eyebrows are definitely a clue to anger, especially if despite these drawn-down eyebrows, the tops of the whites of the eyes are still evident. This means the person has extremely wide, angry eyes that even furrowed eyebrows cannot conceal.

Look at the man's lips. Can you see how they are tensed and narrowed? Tense and narrow lips are a big clue to anger. Sometimes, it's hard to spot the lips becoming tense and narrow and instead you'll see the teeth very clearly during anger, like a dog may bare its teeth in anger as well. Sometimes, the lower jaw will protrude forth in anger or the jaw may be clenched tightly instead.

Gestures & Posture

In the heat of the moment, paying attention to the eyes and fine details like narrowing of the lips and other facial expressions may be difficult. So look for more obvious things like gestures and posture. Are his arms flailing about as he accosts the checkout clerk? Is he pacing back and forth as he talks really loudly in the checkout lane? Is he jutting his chest forward sort of like a primate trying to intimidate their opponent? Is he violating the clerk's personal space by getting right in their face? Those are all clues to anger. Note his hands as well; if they are clenched into fists, watch out!

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