Come out of Your Shell

Practical Applications for Nonverbal Intelligence and Emotional Indicators of the Turtle Effect

By David M. Schneer, Ph.D./CEO

3-Minute Read

Turtles withdraw their heads and limbs into their shell when they feel threatened. Turns out, so do humans. While we cannot withdraw our limbs into an outer shell, we can—and do, ever so slowly—raise our shoulders when we feel stress or psychological discomfort.

It is so obvious that body language experts have named this behavior—The Turtle Effect (Navarro 2018, 104). And it looks like this:

What does this mean? It can mean several things. First, it is a sign that someone is shy, insecure, doubtful, or frightened. Just like a turtle when it retracts its appendage—the head begins a slow descent as the shoulders rise, almost as if to disappear. Essentially, people who exhibit the Turtle are trying to make themselves invisible.

At Merrill Research, we see this behavior in our qualitative studies when a research participant is expressing doubt about a product or concept to which they have been exposed. It is a clue that something is amiss.

Turtling can also mean the desire to disappear into the surroundings. Shoplifters have been known to suppress their arm movements and employ the Turtle to subconsciously make themselves look smaller and therefore, less visible. Fortunately, to the trained eye of loss prevention professionals, this is a dead giveaway! (Navarro 2015, 29). Standing around aimlessly while trying to melt into the environment makes shoplifters even more obvious.

Turtle posturing provides quite a bit of information both in-person and on Zoom and can be spotted quite easily.

Unless you are a turtle and need armor for protection, it is best you lose your shell.

Contact us today to see how we can help you or your organization become proficient at identifying what people are really thinking when they communicate with you. 

Most Communication is Nonverbal. Are You Fluent?

The Dictionary of Body Language, Joe Navarro, HarperCollins Publishers Australia Pty. Ltd.

Sydney, Australia, 2018.

Navarro, Joe, and Marvin Karlins. Essay. In What Every BODY Is Saying: an Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Speed-Reading People. New York, NY: Harper Collins, 2015.

Turtle Effect Image Credit