Psychology - Non-verbal communication studies


Processing emotion

Sackeim (1978)

Aim: To see how we process emotion through facial expression recognition in the hemispheres of the brain

Method: Photos of people showing emotions were cut down the middle and mirror images were created from each faceto make up whole faces again. Participants were asked which face they preferred out of the left and right side mirrored faces

Results: The majority of participants reported greater liking for the leftside mirrored faces, describing the faces as “warmer”

Conclusion: The left side of the face expresses emotion more than the right

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Postural echo

McGinley (1975)

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

Method: A confederate of the experimenter (actor) approached people in a social setting and engaged them in conversation. In half the encounters, the confederate echoed the person’s body language and in the other half, they didn’t. Participants were asked what they thought about the confederate afterwards

Results: When postural echo was used the people questioned reported greater liking for the confederate and thought that they had got on well. When postural echo wasn’t used, liking was reduced and conversation was described as “awkward” by people questioned

Conclusion: Postural echo gives an unconscious message of friendliness

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Pupil dilation

Hess (1963)

Aim: To see if pupil dilation has an effect on emotion

Method: Participants were shown 2 nearly identical pictures of a girl. The only difference was the size of her pupils (in one picture her pupils were dilated (big) and the other they were not). They were asked which picture they found more attractive

Results: The majority of participants found the girl with the dilated pupils more attractive, although many of them couldn’t explain why!

Conclusion: Pupil dilation has an unconscious but powerful effect on emotion

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Distruption of eye contact

Arygle (1998)

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 eye contact was hidden

Results: In the dark glasses condition there were more interruptions and hesitations in the conversations

Conclusion: Eye contact is necessary to ensure smooth conversation

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Paralinguistic features (emotions)

Davitz and Davitz (1961)

Aim: To see if paralinguistic features of a message enable us to assess emotion being conveyed

Method: Participants had to listen to tape recordings and assess the speaker’s emotions from the paralinguistic cues (tone, emphasis and intonation)

Results: People were highly accurate at recognising emotions (affection, amusement, disgust and fear)

Conclusion: Paralinguistics are greatly important when judging someone’s emotions

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Eye contact

Kendon (1967)

Aim: To see how eye movements affect the flow of conversation

Method: Pairs of participants were asked to have a conversation whilst being secretly watched through a one way mirror

Results: When one person was about to speak they looked away from the other person, briefly avoiding eye contact. They would then give the person a prolonged look when nearing the end of their point. This indicated to the other person that it was their turn to speak. Without the prolonged look, there was a pause in the conversation.

Conclusion: Eye movements signals turn taking in conversation

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Tone of voice

Argyle, Alkema and Gilmour (1971)

Aim:To see if tone of voice has an effect when interpreting a verbal message

Method: Different groups of participants listened to either friendly or hostile messages spoken in either a friendly or hostile tone and were asked to interpret the meaning of the message (some heard friendly messages in hostile tone and some hostile messages in friendly tone)

Results: Tone of voice had 5 times greater effect than the verbal message itself

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

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Open/closed posture

McGinley, Lefevre and McGinley (1975)

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

Method: A conferate approached individuals in a social setting and had conversations with them either in an open or in a closed posture. After this encounter, the experimenter asked the people what they thought of the confederate

Results: Open posture = confederate described as friendly and attractive

 Closed posture = unfriendly and less attractive

Conclusion: The posture a person adopts can determine whether or not they are liked.

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Lynn and Mynier (1993)

Aim: To see if gestures can affect another person’s behaviour

Method: Waiting staff were required to either remain standing when taking orders from seated customers or to squat down so that they could make eye contact

Results: Waiting staff got larger tips when squatting down

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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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 (confederate) who either touched them or didn’t when handing over the books. They were afterwards asked to rate the librarian

Findings: The students who were touched gave more positive ratings of the library and the librarian despite the fact they didn’t realise they’d been touched!

Conclusion: Touch will have an unconscious and positive effect on attitudes

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Personal space - gender

Argyle and Dean (1965)

Aim: To see if sex differences affect personal space

Method: Participants were asked to sit and have a conversation with another person (actually a confederate) who was either the same or opposite sex to the participant. They sat at varying distances and continually looked into the participant’s eyes

Results: Participants tended to break eye contact (point at which personal space is invaded) at a greater distance when the confederate was of the opposite sex

Conclusion: We prefer a greater amount of personal space when the person is of the opposite sex during a normal conversation  

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Personal space - age

Willis (1966)

Aim: To see if age affects personal space

Method: Naturalistic observation of 800 people in social situations

Results: People conversing of similar age stand closer to each other than those of different ages

Conclusion: Age affects how close people will stand to each other

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Personal space - personality

Williams (1971)

Aim: To see if personality affects personal space

Method: College students completed a questionnaire to assess whether they were extroverts (outgoing and sociable) or introverts (quiet and reserved). They were then invited into an office to receive their college grades from a tutor. The researchers noted where they chose to sit when receiving their grades.

Results: Introverts sat further away from the tutor than extroverts

Conclusion: Whether someone is an introvert or an extravert will affect their preference for personal space

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Personal space - culture

Summer (1969)

Aim: To see if cultural difference exist in use of personal space

Method: Summer observed interactions between groups of white English people and groups of Arab people (Middle East and Africa)

Results: Comfortable distance in conversation for White English was 1-1.5m, whereas for Arab people it was much less

Conclusion: Personal space varies with culture. People from Western cultures prefer more space than people from Eastern cultures

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Personal space - status

Zahn (1991)

Aim: To see if status affects personal space

Method: Zahn observed a range of people conversing who either had equal or unequal status

Results: People of lower status didn’t approach those of higher status with the same degree of closeness as those of equal status

Conclusion: The use of personal space varies with status when approaching people

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very good revising technique 



Very helpful

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