PSYCHOLOGY: Non-Verbal Communication

Everything you need to know about non-verbal communication including all the experiments you need.


Non-verbal Communication

Non-verbal communication-conveying messages that do not require the use of words or vocal sounds.

Verbal communication- conveying messages using words or vocal sounds.

In the non-verbal communication topic, you will encounter uses of both non-verbal and verbal communication. The experiments within the topic are important and have helped us to understand how humans communicate. 

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Eye Contact

Eye Contact- when two people in a conversation are looking at each others' eyes at the same time.

Eye Contact is shown to have a great affect on conversation through two experiments.

Kendon (1967)

Argyle (1968)

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Kendon (1967)

Aim- To see how eye movements affect the flow of conversation.

Method- Pairs of participants were asked to get acquainted. Their conversations were secretly                            watched by observers through a one-way mirror system.

Results- As one person was about to speak, they looked away from the other person, briefly avoiding                eye contact. Then they would give the other person's face a prolonged look when they were                  about to finish what they were saying. When the speaker gave the prolonged look, it seemed                to indicate to the other person that they could begin to speak. If the prolonged look didn't                        happen, there was a pause in conversation.

Conclusion- Eye movements signals turn taking in conversation.

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Evaluation of Kendon

Evaluation- a review of an experiment or study which describes what was done well. It includes strengths and weaknesses of the experiment.

Ecological Validity- 'real life' situations.

Kendon's experiment is good but it does not say whether or not the participants already knew eachother however from the word 'acquainted' we can presume that they didn't. However this could make the experiment lack ecological validity because we are not normally asked to talk to strangers, in fact we are advised against it.

Also, this experiment is unethical since the participant doesn't know everything about the experiment including the fact that they're secretly being watched.

It was also a laboratory experiment which also means there may not be ecologicall valid as people act differently in different situations.

Try to create your own evaluation for each experiment/study.

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Argyle (1968)

Aim- To see how interrupting eye contact affects conversation.

Method- Pairs of participants were observed having conversations. In half the conversations, one of                  the participants wore dark glasses so that the other could not recieve eye contact.

Results- When one of the participants wore dark glasses, there were more pauses and interruptions                    than when dark glasses were not worn

Conclusion- Eye contact is important in ensuring a smooth, flowing conversation.

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Paralinguistics- vocal features that accompany speech e.g. emphasis.

Emphasis- giving prominence to some words more than others.

Intonation- inflection in the voice when speaking.

Tone of voice- the way words are spoken to convey emotion.

Emphasis, tone of voice and intonation are all paralinguistics and, as seen in the next few experiments, have a huge impact about how we convey and interpret verbal mesages.

The experiments covered are:

Davitz and Davitz (1961)

Argyle, Alkema and Gilmour (1971)

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Davitz and Davitz (1961)

Aim- To see the effects of paralinguistics on the assessment of emotion.

Method- Participants were asked to listen to taped recordings and to assess speakers' emotions from the paralinguistic cues: tone of voice, emphasis and intonation.

Results- There was a high level of accuracy in recognising these emotions; affection, amusement, disgust and fear.

Conclusion- Paralinguistics have a great importance when judging emotions.

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Argyle, Alkema and Gilmour (1971)

Aim- To see if tone of voice has any effect when interpreting a verbal message.

Method- Different groups of participants listened to either friendly or hostile messages spoken in                            either friendly or hostile tones of voice. Therefore some participants heard a                                 hostile message spoken in a friendlty tone of voice and others heard a friendly                            message spoken in a hostile tone of voice.

Results- When participants were asked to interpret the messages, it was found that tone of voice                had about five times the effect of the verbal message itself.

Conclusion- Tone of voice is extremely important in how people interpret verbal messages.


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Pupil Dilation

Pupil dilation is when the pupil of your eye gets larger.

This has an affect on how we view others.

The only experiment on pupil dilation that is covered within the topic is Hess (1963)

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Hess (1963)

Aim- To see the effect of pupil dilation on emotion.

Method- Participants were shown two nearly identical pictures of the same girl and asked which picture was more attractive. The only difference between the two pictures was that, in one of them, the girl's pupils were dilated, and in the other picture they were not.

Results- The majority of participants said that the pictures of the girl with dilated pupils was more attractive. Strangely though, they could not say why they thought that.

Conclusion- Pupil dilation has an unconscious but powerful effect on emotion.

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Basic Human Expressions

The six basic human expressions:

  • Anger
  • Fear
  • Disgust
  • Surprise
  • Happiness
  • Sadness

These facial expressions are a human universal (from birth, except fear that comes from 6 months onwards).

The only experiment that you cover within the topic is Sackeim (1978)

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Sackeim (1978)

Aim- To look at the relationship between facial expressions and the hemispheres of the brain.

Method- Pictures of people's faces showing different emotions were cut down the middle.                                    New pictures were created with each half face and its mirror image. Then each pair of new                    faces was shown to participants. They were asked which picture they liked better.

Results- The majority of participants said they preferred the picture of the left half face and its                              reflection. When asked why, they said the person in the picture looked 'warmer'.

Conclusion- The left side of the face seems to express more emotions than the right side.

Hemispheres of the brain- the human brain is divided into two halves, called the left and right hemispheres.

This experiment proves that the left hemisphere processes structure and the right hemisphere processes emotions since the right hemisphere controls the left side and vise versa.

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Personal Space

The next five experiments are all about different factors that can affect personal space.

  • sex differences (Argyle and Dean, 1965)
  • personality (Williams, 1971)
  • age (Willis, 1966)
  • cultural differences (Summer, 1969)
  • status (Zahn, 1991)

These aren't the only things that can affect personal space but they are what you cover in the topic. 

Personal space- The distance between ourselves and the people in our everyday lives. 

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Argyle and Dean (1965)

Aim- To see if sex differences affect personal space.

Method- One at a time, participants were asked to sit and have a conversation with another person                   who was actually a confederate of the experimenter. Sometimes the confederate was the                      same sex as the participant and at other times the confederate was of the opposite sex. The                 confederate sat at different distances from the participant and continually looked into the                       participant's eyes.

Results- The participants tended to break eye contact with the confederate of the opposite sex at a                       greater distance apart than when the confederate was of the same sex.

Conclusion- We prefer to have a greater amount of personal space between ourselves and members                        of the opposite sex during normal conversations.

Confederate- an actor or stooge who appears to be a genuine participant in the experiment but is actually working for the experimenter.

Sex differences- differences due to being either male or female; this could affect personal space.

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Williams (1971)

Aim- To see if personality has an affect on personal space.

Method- College students were given personality tests to see if they were extrovert (outgoing and                        sociable) or introvert (quiet and reserved). They were then sent to an office one by one to                      receive their college grades from a tutor. The reseaarchers recorded where they chose to sit                in the office when receiving their grades.

Results- Introverts sat further away from the tutor than extroverts.

Conclusion- Whether somone is extrovert or introvert will affect their use of personal space.

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Willis (1966)

Aim- To see whether if age has an effect on personal space.

Method- Willis observed almost 800 individuals in different social situations.

Results- Those he observed tended to stand closer to people their own age and further away from                       people who were either very much older or younger than themselves.

Conclusion- Age difference affects how close people will stand to eachother.

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Summer (1969)

Aim- To see if there are cultural differences in the use of personal space.

Method- Summer observed groups of white English people and groups of Arab people in                                      conversation.

Results- The comfortable conversation distance for the white English people was 1-1.5m whereas the                 comfortable conversation distance for the Arab people was much less than that.

Conclusion- The use of personal space in normal conversation varies with culture.

Cultural norms- the range of behaviours that members of a particular social group or society can be expected to show.

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Zahn (1991)

Aim- To see if status has an effect on personal space.

Method- Zahn observed people of equal status approaching eachother to have a conversation. He also observed people of unequal status approaching eachother.

Results- Zahn found that people of lower status did not approach higher-status people with the same degree of closeness as those of equal status.

Conclusion- Personal space varies with status.

Status- a persons rank or position within society.

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Posture includes open and closed posture and postural echo. 

The two experiments for posture are:

McGinley (1975)

McGinley, Lefevre and McGinley (1975)

Posture- the positioning of the body, often regarded as a non-verbal communication signal.

Postural echo- mirroring another person's body position.

Closed posture- positioning the arms so that they are folded across the body and/or crossing the legs.

Open posture- positioning the arms so that they are not folded across the body and not crossing the legs

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McGinley (1975)

Aim- To see the effect of postural echo when having a conversation.

Method- A confederate of the experimenter approached individuals in a social setting and had                            conversations with them. In half of the meetings, the confederate echoed the posture of the                    person they were talking to. In the rest of the meetings, the confederate did not echo the                        posture of the other person. Afterwards, the experimenter approached the individuals and                      asked them what they thought of the confederate.

Results- When postural echo was used, the people questioned liked the confederate and thought that                   they got on well together. When postural echo was not used, the confederate was not liked                     as much and the conversation felt awkward.

Conclusion- Postural echo gives an unconscious message of friendliness and kindness.

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McGinley, Lefevre and McGinley (1975)

Aim- To see the effect of open and closed posture when having a conversation.

Method- A confederate of the experimenter approached individuals in a social setting and had                            conversations with them. In half of the conversations, the confederate adopted an open                          posture. Afterwards, the experimenter approached the individuals and asked them what they                thought of the confederate.

Results- When showing an open posture, the confederate was seen as friendly and attractive. When                   showing a closed posture, the confederate was seen as unfriendly and less attractive.

Conclusion- The posture someone adopts can make a difference to how they are liked.

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Gesture- a form of non-verbal communication in which information is conveyed by either deliberate or uknown movement of parts of the body.

Gesture has always been an important way in which we communicate.

The only experiment for gesture that we cover in the GCSE's is Lynn and Mynier (1993)

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Lynn and Mynier (1993)

Aim- To see the effect of gesture used by waiters and waitresses on the tipping behaviour of                           customers in a restaurant.

Method- While taking orders from seated customers, waiters and waitresses were instructed to either                 stand upright or squat down near the customer (squatting down makes more eye contact                       possible).

Results- When the waiters and waitresses squatted down, larger tips were received compared with                     when they took orders standing upright.

Conclusion- The gesture of squatting down near a seated customer to take an order will have a                                   positive effect on tipping behaviour.

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Touch- a form of non-verbal communication in which information is conveyed by physical contact between people.

Physical contact is mainly used when we are with people we feel close with like family and friends. However the only experiment we cover on touch (Fisher, Rytting and Heslin, 1976) explores how touch can effect people's attitudes.

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Fisher, Rytting and Heslin (1976)

Aim- To see the effect of touch on people's attitudes.

Method- Female students in a library were handed books by the librarian. The librarian was a                              confederate of the experimenter. Half of the students were briefly touched on the hand by the                 librarian when the books were handed to them. The other students were not touched by the                   librarian. 

Results- When questioned later, the students who  were touched had a much more positive attitude                    towards the library and the librarian than those who were not touched.The interesting thing                    was that the students were not aware that they had been touched.

Conclusion- Touch can have an unconscious and positive effect on people's attitudes.

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This should be able to get you through the non-verbal communication parts of your GCSE.

I have more resources on my profile as I am currently taking the GCSE course and am starting on the memory topic. There are glossaries as well as general information.

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