Actor Chris Hemsworth, example of a manly man, during a break from the filming of Thor: Ragnarok in Australia, 2016

Few human interactions are as cumbersome as a hug between two male friends who have not seen each other for a long time: that way of squeezing each other and pounding each other’s back, that loud struggle, more typical of an evening of WWE fighting, constitutes a choreography that we rarely see in women, which suggests that for many men it signals something masculine.

So what does this and other curious displays between men actually mean?

Embrace each other with strong slaps on the back

“You are showing your strength, that you love the other person, that you are their friend, but that you are too macho to express it in a more delicate way,” says Enrique García Huete, clinical psychologist and professor of Psychology at the Universidad Complutense and CES Cardenal Cisneros (Madrid).

For Timanfaya Hernández, PhD in Clinical Psychology, director of TH Psychology (Madrid) and member of the Official College of Psychologists of Madrid, “greeting you like this gives you a masculine identity. If a woman were to do this, she would surely face derogatory comments that ‘it seems masculine’. And a man who does not shake his hand is told ‘how sweet are you’. It is a requirement for a man, who has to be strong not to be criticised.”

plays with the keys in his hand

What’s the point of a man waving a set of keys as they enter a bar or wait for their children at the school gate? “When a young man does this he wants to show that he has a car, a positive discriminative element,” says García Huete. “As an adult it has to do with being nervous, unless the key ring is for a Mercedes, Lamborghini or Ferrari. In that case, the owner wants us to know what car he has,” he adds.

Sitting with your legs very wide apart

One is not an authentic alpha male if he is not sprawled on the sofa or in the subway, very comfortable and relaxed. A study from the University of Arizona (USA) revealed that a relaxed posture in women is perceived as “informal”, while in men it is perceived as “dominant”. To make matters worse, a study from the University of California (USA) argues that an expansive pose increases the chances of flirting. “It is an example of metacommunication: non-verbal signs that are given that do not have a direct relationship with what we are saying; learned behaviours that have been reinforced for a long time and that have to do with what someone is trying to convey, but cannot tell you directly, in this case virility,” says Hernández.

Thumbs in the cowboy’s pocket

This is a classic: the thumbs inside the belt (or pocket) as the other fingers point to the genital area. “That’s exhibitionism. He comes to say: ‘I am a gentleman and I have my thing here,’ says García Huete. In general, this John Wayne pose is usually accompanied by legs that are set wide apart. In his book Body Language, Allan Pease defines this stance as “the most aggressive display of sexual courtship of all”.

Scratching your chin or beard

When a man is touching his chin, it often occurs when he is reflecting on something. However, this changes if the man is sporting a beard. Facial hair is an element of masculinity: it is what clearly differentiates men from women. By scratching or caressing his beard, a man is highlighting that manhood.

Cracking the fingers

This action has been inherited from primitive man. “There are many ancestral vestiges that, depending on the context or the medium, can be reproduced to a greater or lesser extent. Crunching the fingers, stretching and shrinking or closing the fists are gestures prior to the fight. They mean: ‘I’m willing to fight’,” says García Huete.

High five

It is one thing to shake another person’s hand, and another to shake it by clasping the palms in the purest give-me-five style “It occurs between friends, as a symbol of clan membership,” points out García Huete.


Walking in the style of Saturday Night Fever

The initial sequence of Saturday Night Fever (1977), in which Tony Manero (played by John Travolta) strolls – strutting – through the streets of Brooklyn, bouncing rhythmically and swinging one arm exaggeratedly (in the other he carries a pot of paint), has been burned into the minds of many who do not know how to walk otherwise. “That swagger is related to courtship, facing women,” says García Huete. “Facing the men, he’s saying to them: ‘I’m very cool, I’m over the top’.”

Putting your feet on the table

Do you remember the famous photo of the G8 summit where Aznar and Bush are lying on a sofa with their feet on the table? Some bosses re-create the posture in their offices (preferably in the presence of their subordinates), and this may be the first thing that some men do when they arrive home after a hard day’s work. Although working days are also hard for women, they do not usually do it. “This action indicates comfort and relaxation: we are sharing a moment with a colleague. It also indicates trust, because it is something that you can only do in an environment where you feel comfortable, “says García Huete.

Rolling up your swim shorts

Many men can be spotted on beaches or at swimming pools wearing swim shorts that have been rolled up, which ends up resembling briefs (only with more volume). If they wanted darker thighs, why did not they buy the briefs? “The briefs are not always well received as they tend to be outdated. That’s why men often buy boxer-style swimmers. There are also men with complexes, who feel more secure with the bulks that are formed,” says García Huete. ” When you are sure of yourself, you work without depending on the environmental conditions. When you have some insecurity and you need to demonstrate things, it is when you making all those signs and gestures.”

Mario Casas does not mind to roll up his swimsuit to keep his body tanned.
Mario Casas does not mind rolling up his swimsuit to keep his body tanned. INSTAGRAM

saying “hello, crack”, “what’s up, monster”

Moving on from body language, we take a look at this purely verbal peculiarity. “It’s a masculine way of expressing admiration, affection or attachment towards another man,” defines García Huete. When dealing with references that come from the world of football or action movies, they occur more in men than in women.