Nonverbal Communication

Studying the Formation of Visual Impressions

The study of the impact nonverbal behaviours of real and virtual humans exert on the communicative process presents a formidable challenge precisely because the meaning of these phenomena is attributed by way of unconscious inference. The perceivers themselves, therefore, are unaware of how they arrived at their judgments. Yet even though work in this field has only begun, first investigations into the cognitive and emotional processes that govern, on the basis of nonverbal cues, the formation of visual impressions have already yielded results that can contribute to a deeper understanding of the mysterious processes involved in human communication and interaction. The research conducted has been funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, Bonn, the Fondation Maison des Sciences de l'Homme, Paris, and the Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy at Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH. 

By now, at least four findings can be considered to be established empirically:

  1. The formation of impressions based on nonverbal cues is near-instantaneous: in less than a second, the viewer has involuntarily formed a firm opinion as to the characteristics of the person viewed.
  2. The ‘Image of the Other’ so created is highly differentiated and surprisingly uniform both inter-individually and inter-culturally.
  3. The key stimuli triggering a certain perception mainly consist of simple patterns.
  4. The viewer’s impressions are governed much more by the dynamics of the movement behaviour displayed than by a person’s static outer appearance. 


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