movements, and are sent deliberately. The "peace" or victory sign and the "thumbs up"
meaning OK or good are examples of emblems. "Mostly, these emblems are culture
specific" (Knapp, 1978, p13). Emblems may represent different meanings in different
cultures. In some cultures it is rude to point with the finger.
Illustrators are 'movements' that are directly linked to speech, illustrating what is being
said verbally, such as pointing at an object. "They are used intentionally to help
communicate, but not as deliberately as emblems" (Knapp, 1978, p15).
An example of body touching as a gesture is the folding of arms as a sign of
A distinction between speech-linked gestures and gestures that are directed towards the
self was made by Freedman and Hoffman (1967). "The first are intended to communicate
where as the second merely release tension". McNeil (1985) argued that gestures and
speech are part of the same psychological structure, that gestures are direct manifestations
of the speaker's inner speech, his thinking process.
There are several different aspects of gaze and mutual gaze. "With a gaze, an adverted
glance or a stare we can communicate intimacy, submission or dominance" (Kleinke,
986). Gaze refers to an individual's looking behaviour whereas mutual gaze refers to the
looking at each other of two interactants. There are several functions of gaze for example,
the gaze may be cognitive where the subject tends to look away when having difficulty
encoding or may be expressive where the degree of involvement may be signalled
through looking (Knapp, 1978, p297).
Eye contact can almost establish an obligation to interact, in some cases. Eye contact
opens the communication channel and regulates the flow of conversation. Eye contact can
be used to catch somebody's attention for example a waiter in a restaurant. Eye contact is
usually avoided in situations where hostility or dislike is felt.
NVC is involved in regulating the degree of intimacy between participants by signaling
the degree of involvement each person is ready to commit to the transaction. It is
important in assuring that the transition between speaker and listener roles proceeds
smoothly. For example, nonverbal cues, such as looking and nodding, can aid the flow of
Sequences of head nods and non-verbal vocalisations can aid speech, indicating that the
listener is positively responding which reassures the speaker.
NVC, such as tone of voice, proximity and gaze, can help us to establish and maintain
friendships and relationships. We can also detect any hostility in a meeting for example
no or little eye contact may represent a disliking of someone.
NVC must have a purpose for it to aid verbal communication. It must have goal directed
signals. If not the signs are non-verbal behaviour (NVB) or a psychological response. For
example, blushing is a form of NVB, as we do not intend to blush.
When can NVC hinder verbal communication? A signal may be sent by the speaker that
is interpreted incorrectly by the receiver. The speaker may be a poor sender or the
receiver may be a poor decoder. Poor encoding or decoding of NVC can influence
"The role of nonverbal dimension in persuasion has probably been underestimated simply
because persuasion has been studied in an artificial lab or classroom setting by academics
who as a group are highly verbal" (Heslin and Patterson, 1982, p44).
In reality most decisions are made in response to a persuasive communication. Most
decisions are made in response to such things as a desire to be like someone else.
NVC can aid verbal communication when we are trying to establish if the person in a
conversation is being truthful. The popular saying 'actions speak louder than words'
seems to have some truth when we look at the evidence that suggests this. A deceitful
person may be anxious of possible discovery, uneasy about lying and so their NVC can
give clues to their deceit. For example, they may avoid eye contact or be unsure of
appropriate behaviours to appear natural and honest.
Police officers have reported that they place a great deal off importance on NVC and
NVB in trying to establish a person's behaviour. Posture, facial expressions, eye
behaviour and vocal characteristics have been reported to be important cues in forming an
impression of a potential suspect (Rozelle and Baxter, 1975).
"We often try to gauge the level of honesty, desperation and sophistication of a
communicator. Thus a communicator's NVC has the potential of helping the listener
evaluate both the communicator and the communication" (Heslin and Patterson, 1982).
From an evolutionary perspective, Charles Darwin (1892) suggested that basic modes of
emotions are the same in all humans. Facial expression conveys emotion and the face acts
as the primary source of meaning.
Research carried out by Ekman and Frieson (1978) among people from different cultural
backgrounds, would support Darwin's proposal. The study was carried out on an isolated
community in New Guinea whose community members had had virtually no contact with
outsiders. Community members were asked to display emotions in response to statements
such as, "Pretend your child has died." The videotapes were shown to North American
students who easily identified the emotions (Myers, 2001, p474). Ekman used this
evidence and other results from similar studies to support the view that facial expression
of emotion and its interpretation are innate in human beings (Giddens, 2001). Another
study carried out by Eibl-Eibesfeldt in 1973 would further support Darwin's theory. Eibl-
Eibesfeldt studied six children who were born both deaf and blind. The children smiled
when engaged in obviously pleasurable activities, raised their eyebrows in surprise when
sniffing an object with an unaccustomed smell and frowned when repeatedly offered a
disliked object. Since they could not have seen other people behaving in these ways, it
seems these responses must have been innately determined (Giddens, 2001, p85).
NVC is a powerful source of communication. It can display emotion and attitude to
others without verbal use. NVC can decipher people's emotions so we can read their
bodies, listen to their tone of voice and study their faces (Myers, 2001, p470).
It plays an important and effective role in verbal communication, involving timing,
gestures, vocal pitch, gaze and eye contact by speakers and co-ordination with other
moves by listeners. The whole process makes up a tightly integrated system of
Argyle, M. (1988) Bodily Communication, London, Routledge.
Giddens, A. (2001) Sociology, Cambridge, The Polity Press.
Heslin, R. and Patterson, M. (1982) Nonverbal Behaviour and Social Psychology, New York, Plenum Press.
Knapp, M. (1978) Nonverbal Communication in Human Interaction, New York, Holt, Rinehart and Winston.
Myers, D. (2001) Psychology, New York, Worth Publishers.
Student ID: 12025791/1