Nonverbal Communication

Within human sciences, the term ‘nonverbal communication’ is used to subsume the wide variety of behavioural phenomena which in close connection with the sender’s verbal utterances are produced in any interpersonal encounter: gestures, postures, facial movements, eye contact, physical distance, etc. It has long been noted that this nonverbal activity is by no means a trivial by-product of the verbal activity, but a resource of high impact that can largely determine the course and the outcome of the communications process. The very reason for this is that humans are prone to give much more importance to what they see than to what they are told by others - true to the often quoted adage, ‘A picture is worth a thousand words’.

Research into how nonverbal actions influence the communication process is, however, a very late development. Indeed, the term ‘nonverbal communication’ does not appear in the literature until the middle of the 20th century - ushered in, undoubtedly, by the advent of television, which at that time was just about to begin its meteoric ascent toward becoming the dominant medium of mass communication. As the public’s attention now quickly shifted from listening and reading to seeing, the new medium almost single-handedly relegated the verbal component of communication from its long-predominant status to a secondary source of information. It thus became instantly clear that in order to understand how communication functions in the modern world, it would be of paramount importance to study the cognitive and emotional processes that steer, on the basis of nonverbal cues, the formation of visual impressions.

 References

  • Nonverbal Communication: Notes on the Visual Perception of Human Relations. Ruesch, J. and Kees, W. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1956
  • The Silent Language. Hall, E.T. New York: Anchor Books, 1959
  • The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Goffman, E. New York: Doubleday, 1959