The NonVerbal Dictionary of Gestures, Signs & Body Language Cues

Branch Substitute

Artifact. Any of numerous and diverse consumer products (e.g., baseball batsclothing irons, and tennis rackets) designed to be held tightly in a power grip.
Usage I: Because the human hand was originally designed for climbing, we find primal pleasure in gripping a golf clubhandrail, or steering wheel. Holding a hammer, e.g., satisfies our inner primate's need to grasp objects (just as strolling satisfies our need to walk).
Usage II: Swinging a bat or ironing clothes stimulates tactile nerve endings to refocus our orienting attention inward (i.e., toward the branch substitute itself), away from potentially stressful events "out there." Thus, the power grip exerts calming effects through a physiological principle of acupressure massage or shiatsu (see SELF-TOUCH). Because the forebrain's thalamus cannot process all incoming signals at once, grasping an object can reduce anxiety and block pain.

Word origin. The word branch comes from Latin branca, "paw," possibly from Celtic (see TREE SIGN).
Neuro-notes. Our brain devotes an unusually large part of its surface area to fingers, thumbs, and palms (see HOMUNCULUS). Branch substitutes engage many areas of thecerebral neocortex, as well as evolved sub-regions of the basal ganglia and cerebellum. Ironing clothes, e.g., involves a highly evolved area of our neocortex, the parietal lobe. The posterior parietal's left side is specialized for language, while its right side helps process information about a. relationships among objects in spaceb. the position of our hands, and c. our motivational state. As we press a collar, "The right parietal lobe is specially concerned in the handling of spatial data and in a non-verbalized form of relationship between the body and space" (Eccles 1989:197).

Photo of eucalyptus tree (Encinitas, California, USA) by Doreen K. Givens (copyright 2007)