Psychology - Non-Verbal Communication

  • Created by: EmilyT432
  • Created on: 19-03-17 20:28

Key Concepts

Non - Verbal Communication = Telling others what we are thinking, feeling or planning by recognised body movement, it can be conscious (i.e. we are aware of doing it) or unconscious (i.e. we and unaware we are doing it)

Body Language = Communicating something physically through our body for example our body movement, gestures, touching, keeping a distance, and so on.

Facial Expressions = Communicating something through the movement of muscles in the face, for example by moving eyebrows, lips, eyes and so on.

Posture = Communicating with a particular position of the body.

Gestures = Communicating through the movement of a part of the body, especially a hand or the head, to express an idea or meaning.

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Core Theory - Social Learning Theory


Non - verbal communication is a learned behaviour rather than as instinctive one. We notice what other people do a say and copy their behaviour if they are rewarded, or avoid the behaviour if they are punished for it. The first stage is observation - we specifically pay attention to adults behaviour because they are considered role models. If the adult is rewarded (e.g. respond with a smile) then chances of our imitating (copying) it are increased. If the adult is punished (e.g. respond with a frown) then chances of us imitating the behaviour decrease. It is through this process we learn the acceptable non - verbal communication of our culture (e.g. greetings in France differ from greetings in Brazil).


1. Doesn’t explain why someone may show signs of non-verbal communication that have been punished (e.g. why children copy rude gestures that others have been punished for).
2. Children that have been brought up in the same environment can have very different ways of communication non-verbally (e.g. brothers) - can’t be explain with this theory.
3. Focuses on nurture and ignores nature. Maybe biological differences create the situations above but this theory doesn’t include that.

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Alternative Theory - Evolutionary Theory

Follows the principles of nature. Human beings are governed by instincts - the need to survive and reproduce.

Certain types of non-verbal communication are beneficial for warding off threats (e.g. reducing conflict, allowing people to cooperate).

Others are beneficial for allowing people to court (e.g. making someone appear more attractive and helping people to communicate more effectively).

Therefore, non-verbal communication has an evolutionary advantage. This can explain why some gestures and expressions appear to be universal. 

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Core Study - Yuki et Al

Aim: To investigate the cross-cultural differences in non-verbal communication for those in Japan and the United States.
Method: The researcher used 118 American volunteer students at Ohio University and 95 Japanese volunteer students at Hokkaido University. They completed a questionnaire in which they had to rate the emotional expression of 6 different emoticons on a scale of 1 (very sad) to 9 (very happy). 
Results: Japanese participants gave highest ratings to faces with happy eyes, whereas the American participants gave highest rating to faces with happy mouths. This suggests that in Japanese culture, eyes are more important in expressing and interpreting emotions; whilst in American culture it is the mouth that is the most important.
Conclusions: The existence of cultural differences in non-verbal communication suggests it is influenced by upbringing and experience.
1. Lacks ecological validity - uses emoticons rather than real faces. Can't assume we read emotional expressions the same way in real life.
2. Not representative - all students so very narrow age group for the research. Cannot be generalised to other groups.
3. Dependent variable measured in a very simple way (1-9) even though recognising emotions is a very complex process. We can’t assume it’s a reliable scale for accurately measuring expressions.

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Applications of Research

Rehabilitation of Offenders: Help them to manage difficult situations more effectively. 
1. Modelling - the trainer acts out correct behaviour.
2. Practice - the offender attempts to imitate the trainer.
3. Feedback - the trainer comments on the imitation.
4. Homework - offender tries to transfer new skills to real life. 

Managing Conflict: Teaching members of professions such as police, social services, education to diffuse situations and resolve issues. Uses the same concepts as above with the aim of de-escalating situations that could become hostile or aggressive.

Customer Service Training: Aim to create a positive impression and give people good service (e.g. retail, catering, leisure). Encourages potential customers to return to the business.

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