Fists evoke power, resistance, even solidarity, and fist imagery has proliferated over the years. The Black Panther Party's symbol connoted racial pride and political clout; the Obamas' famous fist bump was an act of celebration; and Rosie the Riveter in a World War II poster (right) flexed a bicep and clenched a fist, showing a can-do spirit that feminists have since appropriated. Current research, however, suggests that this last example may not be all it's cracked up to be.
Thomas W. Schubert, a social psychologist and researcher at the Higher Institute of Labor and Social Enterprise in Lisbon, Portugal, wondered if a fist with no accompanying reference to force might influence someone's perception of physical aggression. After all, he explains, a fist is just "the abbreviation of hitting someone or something; it implies the ability and determination that one will use bodily force."
In three related experiments, Schubert got...