What are Self-Adaptors?

Self-adaptors are the sort of movements that involve self-touch which are learned and utilized through the mastery or management of a variety of problems or needs.

Adaptors Opens in new window are unlike both emblems and illustrators in intentionality and awareness, having little of either. While emblemsOpens in new window and illustratorsOpens in new window will almost never be shown when the individual is totally alone, or disengaged from some form of communication with another person, self-adoptors will occur, often with high frequency and in their most complete form, when the person is alone.

Self-adaptors are learned and utilized either to facilitate or block sensory inputs originating through hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting or touching; some are utilized to facilitate ingestive, excretive, or autoerotic activity; some are used to facilitate grooming, cleansing, and in some cases to modify the attractiveness of the face and body. And, some self-adoptors are first learned to facilitate or block sound-making and speech.

  • An example of a self-adaptor seen in adult conversation would be the wiping of the lips with the tongue or, in particular, with the hand. Although chapped lips or a dryness of the mouth may be relevant to the appearance of this movement, if it also includes a clicking or slapping of the tongue against the roof of the mouth it may be a self-adaptor originally learned to clear away debris from the mouth and lips after a satisfying meal.

The hands may wipe around the corners of the eye, a self-adaptor which would remove tears; but it may be shown by the adult with no tears present when grief or sadness is felt or anticipated. A person may squeeze his legs, exerting pressure in the genital region, a self-adaptor originally associated with the sudden termination of parental affection, it may reappear when the adult experiences rejection by authority figures.

In any given conversational setting people differ markedly in their rate of self-adaptor activity. Self-adaptor will increase with psychological discomfort or anxiety, although some people will show a decrease in self-adaptors when discomforted or anxious, instead freezing movement in muscularly tense immobility.

Researchers believe that specific types of self-adaptor are associated with specific feelings and attitudes. They illustrate with two examples.

  • picking or squeezing part of the body is aggression against the self or aggression towards others temporarily displaced onto the self;
  • covering the eye with a hand is relevant to preventing input, avoiding being seen, and shame.

Both the action and location of the self-adaptor must be considered to decode the specific meaning of the act, although certain actions, such as the picking or squeezing, may have meaning in themselves regardless of location.

All other things being equal, self-adaptor occur more frequently when the person is in a private rather than a public place, when alone rather than in the presence of others, when not in any way involved with others rather than “with” others, when listening rather than speaking in conversation. No matter when it occurs, self-adaptor are usually performed with little awareness, and never deliberately employed to communicate information to another person.

Again, self-adaptor have no intrinsic relationship to concomitant speech, but they may be triggered by the motives or affects which are being verbalized, or by discomfort or anxiety about conversation. When the individual is alone in a private place, he may or may not be aware of his adaptor activity. When he is in conversation, although he will reduce or fragment his adaptor acts, the individual is rarely aware of either managing or performing the adaptor acts.

The performance of self-adaptor during conversation rarely receives any external feedback; other people don’t directly look or comment on them, and rarely wish to be caught looking at them. It was only our parents who commented on the improper performance of self-adaptors in public places.

The person showing a self-adaptor will break visual contact with the other interactants, and they will not look at him in any sustained fashion until he finishes the adaptor activity.

We are not necessarily mannerly, avoiding the performance of such behaviours, but we are polite observers. If we notice someone engaged in a self-adaptor, we will look away, and pretend it is not occurring. Rudeness resides just as much in the person who continues to observe a self-adaptor as in the person who engages in the behaviour.