Introduction (Psychology and Mental Health)
Most researchers accept Ray Birdwhistell’s approximation that nonverbal communication accounts for at least 60 to 70 percent of what humans communicate to one another, although psychologist Albert Mehrabian estimates that as much as 93 percent of the emotional meaning of messages is transmitted nonverbally. Studies have shown that nonverbal messages are generally more believable than verbal ones; when verbal and nonverbal messages contradict, most people believe the nonverbal. Nonverbal communication is at least as important as verbal communication; however, the formal study of nonverbal communication is still in its infancy when compared to verbal communication.
Charles Darwin’s The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872) was one of the first studies to associate nonverbal behaviors of humankind with other species and to emphasize its function of indicating mood, attitude, and feeling. His research initiated the modern study of nonverbal communications, an interdisciplinary field that calls on scholars from linguistics, anthropology, sociology, physical education, physiology, communication, and psychology. The early works on nonverbal communication tended to be speculative, anecdotal, and tentative, but by 1960, major works began emerging that organized and synthesized the existing data from these diverse fields. Theoretical issues became clarified, and many methodological problems were solved....
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Implicit Communication Codes (Psychology and Mental Health)
One of the most influential researchers in the nonverbal communication area has been Mehrabian, who calls this “implicit communication” because it is usually done subtly; people are generally not aware of sending or receiving nonverbal messages. Mehrabian found that nonverbal communication is used to communicate attitudes, emotions, and preferences, especially the following four: pleasure/displeasure; arousal/nonarousal; dominance/submissiveness; and liking/nonliking.
Each of these emotions is associated with a cluster of nonverbal actions that is communicated in one of seven different codes. Codes are organized message systems consisting of a set of symbols and the rules for their use. The eight nonverbal codes are physical appearance (especially height and body type); kinesics (the study of body movements, gestures, posture, and facial expressions); proxemics (the use of space as a special elaboration of culture); haptics (the study of touch and touching); chronemics (the study of how people use and structure time); olfactics; paralanguage (tone, pitch, accents, emphases, yawns, voice qualities, rate of speaking, and pauses) and silence; and artifacts (objects, such as clothing, jewelry, furniture, and cars, that are associated with people).
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Functions (Psychology and Mental Health)
Joseph DeVito and Michael Hecht state that nonverbal messages perform seven important functions. First, they provide information; this can occur deliberately or through leakage, as when a person reveals that he or she is lying by talking overly fast and in short sentences. Second, they regulate interaction, by telling people when to begin a conversation, whose turn it is to speak, and when the conversation is over. Kinesics, especially eye contact, is the main code used for this function. Third, nonverbal communication is the primary means of expressing emotions. Researchers have identified the nonverbal cues used in expressing the basic emotions of happiness, surprise, fear, anger, sadness, disgust, contempt, and interest. Paul Ekman and Wallace Friesen found that the expression and interpretation of emotions is universal; therefore, the nonverbal expression of emotion is probably biologically determined.
The fourth function of nonverbal communication is in exercising social control. Nonverbal messages of power and dominance can be used to control people and events. Fifth, nonverbal communication helps to accomplish specific tasks or goals (such as hitchhiking using the familiar hand gesture). Sixth, nonverbal messages are very important in telling the listener how to interpret a message; for example, sarcasm is signaled through paralanguage, and kinesics help to communicate empathy, as when the speaker leans forward and touches...
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Characteristics (Psychology and Mental Health)
Just as verbal messages are often misunderstood, so are nonverbal messages. Three characteristics of nonverbal communication are important in understanding the potential for confusion that may exist in both sending and interpreting nonverbal messages. First, nonverbal communication is different from nonverbal behavior. Nonverbal communication consists of messages that are symbolic, that stand for something other than themselves. Nonverbal behavior does not stand for anything else. For example, if a listener avoids eye contact with a speaker because of an emotional response to the message or to the person, or if the speaker interprets the action that way, the action is nonverbal communication. If the listener avoids eye contact because the sun is in her eyes, and the speaker does not interpret it as meaningful, then the action is nonverbal behavior.
Second, nonverbal communication activity is rule-guided. These rules are arbitrary and unwritten; they are learned by observing others. Breaking these rules can provoke unpleasant emotional reactions; for example, staring at someone in an elevator can result in hostility. Because the nonverbal rules are arbitrary and may change from situation to situation (such as at home versus on the job), it is important to be a careful observer and learn the rules before acting.
The third characteristic is that nonverbal communication is strongly influenced by culture. Although all...
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Interpersonal Relationships (Psychology and Mental Health)
Nonverbal communication has been used to examine almost every aspect of human behavior. Two of the most widely researched areas are interpersonal relationships and nonverbal communication in the workplace.
Nonverbal communication plays an important role in initiating, maintaining, and terminating relationships. One study identified fifteen cues that express a woman’s interest in dating; almost all of these were nonverbal cues, including high amounts of eye contact, smiling, forward lean, shoulder orientation, close (about 45 centimeters, or 18 inches) proximity, and frequent touching. The men and women participants all agreed that a woman who displays these cues to a man is probably interested in dating him. More than two-thirds of the males surveyed said they prefer women to use these nonverbal messages to convey their interest in dating; less than one-third said they preferred a verbal approach. A similar study observed flirting behavior in a singles bar and catalogued fifty-two different nonverbal acts; the most frequently occurring were eye gaze, forward lean, smiles, and touch.
Nonverbal cues are also used to develop and maintain relationships. On dates, sexual intimacy is regulated by nonverbal cues, and increasing intimacy is marked through intimate physical contact. Desmond Morris, in his book Intimate Behaviour (1971), suggested twelve stages of contact in animal courtship that he...
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Understanding Power in the Workplace (Psychology and Mental Health)
Nonverbal communication on the job can determine who is hired, promoted, and fired. Power plays an important role in business organizations, and, as Mehrabian demonstrated, nonverbal communication is the implicit communication system through which power is manifested. The nonverbal codes that are most often used in communicating power are physical appearance, artifacts, kinesics, proxemics, haptics, and chronemics.
A person’s height and physical size are important components of power and status. Research shows that taller men get better jobs, are paid larger salaries, and are perceived as having more status; overweight people have more problems getting hired and being accepted to colleges. Attractive people are more persuasive than unattractive people and are more likely to receive assistance and encouragement. Body shape is associated with a wide range of personality characteristics: For example, mesomorphs (bony, muscular, athletic) are identified as being dominant, confident, and adventurous; ectomorphs (tall, thin, fragile) with being shy, tense, and awkward; and endomorphs (soft, round, fat) with being dependent, sluggish, and sympathetic. People make these judgments unconsciously, and the impressions are usually difficult to overcome.
Artifacts function as symbols of power in four ways: First, they are symbols of the power structure within the organization; second, individuals who have...
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Role in Human Development (Psychology and Mental Health)
Nonverbal communication was of interest primarily to elocutionists until 1872, when Darwin published his findings. Darwin aroused interest in nonverbal communication among researchers in many different fields, especially psychology. Nonverbal communication is of particular interest to the field of psychology for two reasons: its role in the development of human personality and its usefulness in treating patients with psychological disturbances.
Nonverbal communication, especiallytouch, plays an essential role in human development. Of the available forms of communication, haptics is the first form developed in infants. Babies explore their own bodies and their environment through touch. Psychologically, the infant, through self-exploration, begins the process of achieving self-identity, environmental identity, security, and well-being. The development of healthy individuals seems related to the amount of touch they receive as infants; for example, tactile deprivation has been associated with learning problems and lack of trust and confidence.
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Relationship with Disorders (Psychology and Mental Health)
Clinical psychologist s have become increasingly interested in the relationship between psychological disorders and nonverbal behavior, and they have relied on a knowledge of the behavioral symptoms of maladjustment in diagnosing and treating psychological problems. Sigmund Freud believed that a patient’s physical actions were at least as important as verbal actions in communicating the sources of psychological trauma.
Wilhelm Reich used relaxation exercises with his obsessive-compulsive patients; his belief was that actions and feelings are connected, and if feelings cannot be changed through discussions and insight, maybe they can be modified by simply changing a person’s postures, gestures, and facial and vocal expressions. More recently, Reich’s premise has been elaborated extensively by action-oriented therapies such as dance or body-awareness therapy. In some cases, the therapist tells the client to express different emotions through movement. By observing these movements, the therapist is able to find out which emotions the client typically and easily conveys and which he or she has trouble expressing. The latter are symptomatic of a more general difficulty, and the client is encouraged to express these particular feelings in movements. The improved ability to express such feelings in action can then provide the stimulus for a more explicit discussion of feelings.
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Olfactory Research (Psychology and Mental Health)
In the 1990’s, psychologists and other nonverbal researchers became interested in the role of olfaction (the study of how people use and perceive odors) and olfactory memory in affecting mood and behavior and in improving the learning process. They found that strong fragrances such as musk can cause mood changes. Synthetic aroma chemicals that are often used seem to be the culprit, but researchers have not yet discovered why smelling these chemicals would cause a person’s mood to change. Researchers also discovered that olfaction affects behavior; for example, workers exposed to stimulating scents such as peppermint set higher goals and were more alert and productive than workers who were not exposed to the scents.
Finally, olfactory memory seems to play a role in learning. In one study, fragrance was sprayed in the classroom while the professor was lecturing. When students were tested, the same fragrance was sprayed. Students in the experimental group scored much higher and seemed to retain more of the knowledge than did students in the control group, who had not smelled the fragrance. The area of olfaction appears to be a promising one for nonverbal communication researchers.
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Sources for Further Study (Psychology and Mental Health)
Gorman, Carol Kinsey. The Nonverbal Advantage: Secrets and Science of Body Language at Work. San Francisco: Berrett Kohler, 2008. The author utilizes the latest research and her long experience as a coach and therapist to show how people at work communicate with each other without words.
Guerrero, Laura, Joseph A. DeVito, and Michael L. Hecht, eds. The Nonverbal Communication Reader. 3d ed. Prospect Heights, Ill.: Waveland Press, 2008. Presents a readable and interesting discussion of nonverbal communication, including several areas that are not generally studied, such as olfactics (smell) and artifactual communication, such as clothing, cars, and jewelry. Applications to interpersonal relationships are discussed extensively. A very useful publication.
Harper, Robert Gale, Arthur N. Wiens, and Joseph D. Matarazzo. Nonverbal Communication: The State of the Art. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1978. Reviews a large number of studies on various areas of nonverbal communication. The material in this book has been organized and presented to give the reader an idea of how the findings were obtained as well as what the findings were. Very thorough and detailed.
Henley, Nancy M. Body Politics: Power, Sex, and Nonverbal Communication. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1986. Focuses on the power aspect of nonverbal communication, both on the interpersonal and on the intergroup...
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Nonverbal Communication (Encyclopedia of Small Business)
Nonverbal communicationuch as facial expressions, gestures, posture, and tone of voices an important component of personal business interactions. Nonverbal communication can help a small business owner to get a message across, or to successfully interpret a message received from another person. On the other hand, nonverbal communication can also send signals that interfere with the effective presentation or reception of messages. "Sometimes non-verbal messages contradict the verbal; often they express true feelings more accurately than the spoken or written language," Herta A. Murphy and Herbert W. Hildebrandt noted in their book Effective Business Communications. In fact, studies have shown that between 60 and 90 percent of a message's effect may come from nonverbal clues. Therefore, it is important for small business owners and managers to be aware of the nonverbal messages they send and to develop the skill of reading the nonverbal messages contained in the behavior of others. There are three main elements of nonverbal communication: appearance, body language, and sounds.
APPEARANCE In oral forms of communication, the appearance of both the speaker and the surroundings are vital to the successful conveyance of a message. "Whether you are speaking to one person face to face or to a group in a meeting, personal appearance and the appearance of the surroundings convey nonverbal stimuli that affect attitudesven emotionsoward the spoken words," according to Murphy and Hildebrandt. For example, a speaker's clothing, hairstyle, use of cosmetics, neatness, and stature may cause a listener to form impressions about her occupation, socioeconomic level, competence, etc. Similarly, such details of the surroundings as room size, furnishings, decorations, lighting, and windows can affect a listener's attitudes toward the speaker and the message being presented. The importance of nonverbal clues in surroundings can be seen in the desire of business managers to have a corner office with a view rather than a cubicle in a crowded work area.
BODY LANGUAGE Body language, and particularly facial expressions, can provide important information that may not be contained in the verbal portion of the communication. Facial expressions are especially helpful as they may show hidden emotions that contradict verbal statements. For example, an employee may deny having knowledge of a problem, but also have a fearful expression and glance around guiltily. Other forms of body language that may provide communication clues include posture and gestures. For example, a manager who puts his feet up on the desk may convey an impression of status and confidence, while an employee who leans forward to listen may convey interest. Gestures can add emphasis and improve understanding when used sparingly, but the continual use of gestures can distract listeners and convey nervousness.
SOUNDS Finally, the tone, rate, and volume of a speaker's voice can convey different meanings, as can sounds like laughing, throat clearing, or humming. It is also important to note that perfume or other odors contribute to a listener's impressions, as does physical contact between the speaker and the listener. Silence, or the lack of sound, is a form of nonverbal communication as well. Silence can communicate a lack of understanding or even hard feelings in a face-to-face discussion.
Golen, Steven. Effective Business Communication. U.S. Small Business Administration, 1989.
Murphy, Herta A., and Herbert W. Hildebrandt. Effective Business Communications. 6th ed. McGraw-Hill, 1991.
"The Silent Factor." Denver Business Journal. August 18, 2000.
Strugatch, Warren. "More Than Words Can Say." LI Business News. May 26, 2000.
Nonverbal Communication (International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis)
The question of nonverbal communication involves two distinct areas of epistemology whose theoretical and clinical characteristics have, as of 2005, yet to be articulated: a developmental and linguistic field and a psychoanalytic field. In terms of developmental issues, Frédéric François notes that the body has been largely overlooked by theoreticians of meaning, language, and communication. Understanding facts often begins with an understanding of the final state of their onto-genesis and it is only afterwards that we can retroactively investigate the roots, foundations, and precursors of the object of study. According to François, "It may be the descriptions of the final state that enable us to begin with well-formed utterances, with syntax, and then go on to examine their semantics, whatever it is those utterances may want to say and, ultimately, of the pragmatics, of the reasons for saying, of what it is that urges us to speak and what we are doing when we speak. And although it is true that linguistics has followed this sequence in its development, it is just as true that the child follows the opposite sequence." In other words, it is the result of a natural process in the history of understanding that structural linguistics has developed (Ferdinand de Saussure) before what is currently known as subjectal or dynamic linguistics, which makes greater use of preverbal levels of communication.
Today it is obvious that work on the development of language in children essentially involves an investigation of its corporeal roots, whether these are found in the work of pragmatists (John Austin, Jerome Bruner), cognitivists (C. Trevarthen), or those interested in suprasegmental elements of the speech chain (Ivan Fonagy). All of them attach great importance to deepening our understanding of the preverbal communication that precedes the development of verbal communication, but which accompanies it, shadowlike, throughout life.
For neurophysiology, verbal communication, often referred to as encoded or digital communication, serves an analytical function and is primarily supported by the major hemisphere (involving the integration of the "twofold articulation" of language into phonemes and monemes described by André Martinet), while preverbal communication, known as suprasegmental or analogical, is said to serve a more global and holistic function, and is principally supported by the minor hemisphere (integration of behavioral communication and the music of language: prosody, rate of speech, rhythm, timbre, intensity, and so on, all of which are elements that constitute the nonverbal component of verbal speech).
In terms of psychoanalysis, the history of research on nonverbal communication is superimposed on the history of the concept of counter-transference to the extent that the latter is essentially grounded in a more or less archaic level of emotional communication. From this point of view so-called preverbal communication refers as much to bodily communication, mimicry and behavior, as it does to the unencoded element of language.
It was primarily Melanie Klein who exposed this field of study by her introduction of the concept of projective identification. The importance that the post-Kleinian movement accorded to the process of counter-transference is well known. For rather than being considered an obstacle to therapy, counter-transference was treated as a fundamental tool for working with the patient, regardless of his or her age. Wilfred Bion, through concepts like the "mother's capacity for reverie" and the "alpha function," did much to improve our understanding of these primitive levels of communication, which come into play in group dynamics and in the minds of psychotic subjects. Bion's model was then used for investigating the development of the mental life of the infant.
Julia Kristeva studied the suprasegmental elements of the language of depressive patients. Guy Rosolato, through his concept of "metaphoric-metonymic oscillation," tried to take into account the modalities of the transition between representations of things and representations of words, or, ultimately, between unconscious systems and preconscious-conscious systems, modalities that would clarify the different levels, analog and digital, of communication. Gradually, and in parallel with this work, affect began to assume the function of "representance" (André Green), which acts directly as a medium for nonverbal communication.
At present it is in the investigation of analytic therapies for very young children or patients presenting archaic pathologies that the work of developmental psychologists (Daniel N. Stern) and psychoanalysts finds common ground. Nonetheless, research on non-verbal communication has become a central part of therapy for all patients, even adult and neurotic patients.
See also: Alpha function; Amae, concept of; Counter-identification; Empathy; Identification; Infans; Infantile psychosis; Infant observation (direct); Maternal reverie, capacity for; Primary object; Projective identification; Telepathy.
Bion, Wilfred R. (1967). A Theory of Thinking. In Second Thoughts. London: Heinemann. (Reprinted from International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 43, (1962), 4-5.)
Fonagy, Ivan. (1983). La Vive Voix: Essais de psycho-phonétique. Paris: Payot.
Green, André. (1973). Le Discours vivant. La conception psychanalytique de l'affect. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.
Klein, Melanie. (1946). Notes on Some Schizoid Mechanisms. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 27, 99-110. (Reprinted 1975. In The Writings of Melanie Klein, III, 1946-1963, pp. 1-24). London: Hogarth Press.
Kristeva, Julia. (1989). Black sun: Depression and melancholia (Leon S. Roudiez, Trans.). New York: Columbia University Press. (Original work published 1987)