Nonverbal Communication Theories

Sign Theory (e.g., Semiotics)
3 fields

3 Fields and Nonverbal Comm. Nonverbal Code Systems Proxemics
According to anthropologist Edward Hall, proxemics refers to the study of how humans construct and manage “microspace”--the distance between people in the conduct of everyday transactions, the organization of space in their houses and buildings, and the designof their towns.
-- Hall, The Silent Language, 1959; The Hidden Dimension, 1966.

More on Proxemics

Proxemics - Space and Distance
Types of Space Types of Distance

Distance Factors in Conversation

Kinesics is the nonverbal code system of bodily activity; “body language.”
Major theorists are R. Birdwhistell, and P. Ekman and W. Friesen

Kinesics - Birdwhistell
Birdwhistell’s Six Key Assumptions
1.  All body movements have meaning potential in communicative contexts.
2.  Behavior can be analyzed because of patterns and repetitions.
3.  Although body action has biological limits, the use of body motion in interaction is part of the social system.
4.  People’s visual bodily activity can influence others.
5.  Communicative functions of bodily activity can be studied.
6. A person’s use of bodily activity will have unique, idiocyncratic aspects while also being part of a larger social system shared with others.
-- R. Birdwhistell, Kinesics and Context, 1970

Kinesics - Ekman and Friesen
Ekman and Friesen’s work emphasizes face and hands.  They propose three ways to analyze nonverbal behavior:
1.  Origin - source of the act (innate, species-constant, or variant).
2.  Coding - the act-meaning relationship (arbitrary, iconic, intrinsic).
3.  Usage - what does the behavior do, how does it convey information (communicative act, interactive act).

Ekman and Friesen assert that all nonverbal behavior is one of five types:
1.  Emblems - precise meaning
2.  Illustrators - depict verbal message
3.  Adapters - facilitate release of bodily tension
4.  Regulators - control or coordinate interaction
5.  Affect displays - presentation of feelings and emotions
-- Ekman & Friesen, Unmasking the Face, 1975

1.  Baton - movements that emphasize
2.  Ideograph -“sketch” of a thought’s direction
3.  Deictic movement - pointing
4.  Spatial movement - identifying space
5.  Rhythmic movement - pacing motion
6.  Kinetograph - depicting physical action
7.  Pictograph - drawing a picture in the air
8.  Emblematic movement - illustrating a verbal movement

Theories of Nonverbal Comm…. Some Key Questions
1.  How do people learn nonverbal behavior is some learned, some not learned)?
2.  What relationship exists between nonverbal behavior and verbal behavior?
3.  Does all nonverbal behavior communicate?
4.  Does understanding nonverbal behavior help us communicate well?