Young grumpy pessimistic bearded business man with crossed arms sitting and looking at camera against gray studio background.

Is a person being defensive when they cross their arms?

Fortunately there are a number of reasons why a person is crossing their arms as body language can vary with age, sex and culture.

Asked by: Kate Maddock, Salisbury


Probably, but not necessarily. Body language varies with age, sex and culture, but some features are more or less universal. Even blind people who have never watched anyone else doing it throw their arms in the air when victorious and cross their arms when defensive.

Crossed arms may have originated as a way of physically protecting your body. Men, when they are scared, can even be seen holding both hands over their genitals as though they fear losing them, even when the threat is coming entirely from words. Women are more likely to be seen ‘self-hugging’ – gripping their own upper arms. We all use and respond to these signals, whether consciously or not, and research shows that levels of hormones, including testosterone and cortisol, change with body position.

But don’t get too obsessed with the crossed-arms message. Some people just cross their arms when they are bored or cold.


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