Nonverbal communication includes the subconscious and conscious use of facial expressions, gestures, posture, eye gaze, haptics and physical appearance as well as in a more broad context paralinguistic cues to convey meaning from one person to another without the use of spoken language. Nonverbal communication is them more scientific and hence, more accurate term, used to describe “body language.”
Both nonverbal communication and body language are generally interchangeable as they both describe a set of messages conveyed silently from one person to another.
Nonverbal communication is a mode of silent communication that is used to both convey meaning to other people, as well as to interpret meaning from others.
Common uses for nonverbal communication includes business, dating, between friends and acquaintances, and family. Being able to read and use nonverbal communication is helpful to a) to understand how other people see and view us, b) understand how other people feel and what they mean and c) to understand how we feel about ourselves.
With the help of nonverbal communication, one can become more effective in personal dealings with other people by controlling one’s own message as well as correctly interpreting the meaning from others.
The Study And Application Of Nonverbal Communication
The study of nonverbal communication encompasses many fields of research and branches of science including anthropology, psychology, sociology, biology, psychiatry, ethology, human behaviour, evolution, cognition, neuroscience, endocrinology (study of the endocrine system – hormones), linguistics, economics, law, and many more.
Nonverbal communication usually occurs subconsciously, without the awareness of the issuer. This makes body language quite reliable as a way to read people’s real, or “hidden emotions.” However, nonverbal communication, like spoken language, can also be learned making it more conscious. The permits a user of body language to fake intention or, in a more constructive context, use body language to convey their truer intentions.
However, as people split and divert their focus across multiple channels including verbal language, they often leak information through nonverbal channels.
History Of Body Language
Many believe that the study of nonverbal communication is the result of writings from Charles Darwin which resulted in his publication of “The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals” published in 1872. In his book, Darwin describes how animal species including humans share some inborn nonverbal behaviours that help communicate thoughts and emotions to others. Darwin describes expressions such as bared teeth used to show anger and threat as it is a precursor to biting. He also talked about the wrinkled nose and it’s indication of disgust. He guessed that it reduced the inhalation of foul odors and possible disease. Darwin aimed to showcase the evolutionary origins of expressions and tie them to our animal relatives.
Despite initial observations, the study of nonverbal communication is very much a modern field of study. It really wasn’t until the 1960’s that scientists fully explored its origins. In fact, new studies are still being published regularly which are helping to advance the field of knowledge.
Psychological researchers, Adam Kendon, Albert Scheflen and Ray Birdwhistell continued the advancements in nonverbal communication in the 1950’s. Ray Birdwhistell was the first to truly study nonverbal communication which he terms kinesics and postulated that humans could make and recognize many thousands of facial expressions.
Work continued more rapidly in the mid 1960’s with Michael Argyle, Janet Dean Fodor and Ralph Exline. Eckhard Hess conducted several studies in the 1960’s and 70’s on pupil dilation and concluded that eyes play an important role in signaling like and dislike passively.
Robert Sommer is considered an expert and pioneer in the field of personal space and how people use space to covey power and dominance as well as affiliation for both business and personal relations.
Albert Mehrabian studied nonverbal cues of liking, posture and positional cues.
By the 1970’s the interest in nonverbal communication was gaining steam. Researchers Marianne Lafrance and Clara Mayo co-authored “Moving Bodies: Nonverbal Communication in Social Relationships” and Mayo also produced the book “Gender and Nonverbal Behaviors.” Shirley Weitz wrote “Nonverbal Communication”; a survey on current research on body movement, expressive behaviour and paralanguage.
In the 1970’s Julius Fast’s produced a popular book by the title “Body Language” which focused on the practical aspects of body language to attract and influence other people. Gerard Nierenberg wrote about nonverbal behaviour in negotiations and produced “How to Read a Person Like a Book.”
These early pioneers into nonverbal communication opened the door for modern scientists from various fields to fill the necessary gaps in our understanding. The current study of nonverbal communication includes culture, biology, hormones and cognition.
Much of the new research is focused on discovering universal facial and bodily expressions. Notable scientists include Paul Ekman considered the father of microexpressions as well as David Matsumoto and Jessica Tracy who have added considerable knowledge to universal bodily expressions.
Other notable scientists working in the field includes Michal Parzuchowski, David Puts, Karl Grammer, Nicolas Guéguen and Mark Coulson, amongst many others. Truly, there is currently no monopoly on the study of nonverbal communication. The field is wide open to many fields of study and many new advancements and applications will be discovered in the coming decades.
How Much Meaning Is Sent Through Nonverbal Communication?
It turns out that Mehrabian was actually not studying nonverbal communication at all, but rather words and their relative contribution to meaning. He found that how a word was spoken including, its pitch and tone, rather than the word itself, mattered most.
It is not currently known, and likely never will be totally know, how much communication is reliant on nonverbal communication but estimates in the field range from 50-93%, but this is much more speculation than an empirical measure.
Aspects Of Nonverbal Communication
Nonverbal communication includes many aspects of the human body. The body speaks silently through body posture, gestures, facial expressions, eye movements (pupils, eye direction, squinting, etc.), eye contact, laughter, and body odors, as well as physical qualities such as height, stature, physical beauty, and body motion such as gait as well as people in relation to objects, their environment, how people related to objects such as sucking on pens, and of course how we relate to other people called proxemics as well as touch, called haptics.
Nonverbal communication also includes “elective nonverbal traits” including fashion (footwear and, attire), tattoos, piercings, jewelry, hairstyles and make-up.
In a broader sense, nonverbal communication also includes “paralingual cues” such as voice pitch, pace (pauses), volume, tone, speaking style. It also often includes prosodic features such as rhythm, intonating and voice stress or voice relaxation.
Nonverbal communication can include breath rate, heart rate, even perspiration, blushing and blanching and body twitching,
For a more complete summary of nonverbal communication please visit the parent to this document located HERE.
To really learn about nonverbal communication and it’s application click HERE.
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