Nonverbal Communication

The Bernese System

The Bernese System for Coding Nonverbal Interaction was developed under the auspices of the Swiss National Science Foundation during the years 1973-1982. The objective given was to create a writing system for nonverbal communication that would place such low demands on the coders’ discriminatory powers that it could be learned with very little training and - much like the alphabet - be reliably used by everyone. At the same time, the system aimed to offer such high resolution that it would be possible to reproduce, on the basis of the written account, the interlocutors’ complex movement activity in all its subtle details.

The objective was achieved by taking the alphabetic notation of speech as the paragon to follow. This necessitated a departure from all earlier, ideographic systems of notation which make direct recourse to the meaning of the nonverbal behaviours observed. Instead, just as is the case with alphabetic writing systems, a non-semantic approach was chosen as the foundation on which to base the notation of the nonverbal component of communication. It followed that the continuous stream of nonverbal activity had to be decomposed into its spatial and temporal constituents by producing a time-series of momentary postural configurations. To account for the vast variety of nonverbal behaviours spontaneously exhibited in human interaction it is necessary to consider about four times as many coding aspects as in the case of speech, namely a total of 104 dimensions. With this resolution, however, it is possible to produce a written document of the interlocutors’ nonverbal activity which, as far as accuracy and richness in detail are concerned, is in no way inferior to the alphabetical notation of their verbal activity.


  • Unified Approach to the Investigation of Nonverbal and Verbal Behavior in Communication Research. Frey, S., Hirsbrunner, H.-P., Florin, A., Daw, W., Crawford, R. in: Doise, W. and Moscovici, S. (eds) Current Issues in European Social Psychology, Vol. 1. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983. 
  • Movement in Human Interaction: Description, Parameter Formation and Analysis. Hirsbrunner, H.-P., Frey, S., Crawford, R. in: Siegmann, A.W. and Feldstein, S. (eds.) Nonverbal Behavior and Communication. Hilldale: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1987.