Kinesics: Nonverbal Communication and Body Language

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Nonverbal communication is usually described as the process of wordless communication through sending and receiving mostly visual symbols between people. Messages can be communicated through gestures and touch, by body language or posture, or by facial expression and eye contact. Nonverbal messages could also be communicated through materials, objects, or artifacts such as clothing, hairstyles, and accessories.

Speech contains nonverbal elements known as paralanguage. This includes voice quality, rate, pitch, volume, and speaking style. Speaking style covers rhythm, inflection, and stress on words. Written texts have nonverbal elements as well, such as handwriting style, spatial arrangement of words, or the physical layout of a page. The study of nonverbal communication, however, has tended to focus on face-to-face interaction. It can be classified into three principal areas. These three areas are environmental conditions, or where the communication takes place, physical characteristics of the communicators, and behaviors of communicators during interaction. Most social psychologists claim that nonverbal communication makes up about two-thirds of all communication between two people or between one speaker and a group of listeners. Nonverbal communication can portray a message with the correct body signals. There are numerous elements of what we call body language. They include but are not limited to physical features, both changeable and unchangeable, your gestures and signals you send to others at a conscious and unconscious level, and the space that you use when communicating with others. The wrong signals can be sent if the body language conveyed does not match a verbal message. Nonverbal communication strengthens a first impression in common situations like attracting a partner or in a business interview. The first scientific study of nonverbal communication was Charles Darwin's book The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals. He argued that all mammals reliably show emotion in their faces. People have a scientifically estimated four seconds to make a good impression on those with whom they come in contact. First encounters or interactions with another person strongly affect a person’s lifestyle. People are more likely to believe that the first things they learn about a person are the truth. When the other person or group is paying attention they are focused on the entire environment around them, although they may not be aware of this. This means a person uses all five senses during interaction. Kinesics is the study and interpretation of human body movements during social interaction. Anthropologist Ray Birdwhistell first coined this term in 1952 (Littlejohn and Foss, 581). Kinesics encompasses facial expression, gestures, posture, and visible arm and body movements. Birdwhistell wished to study how people communicate through these movements. His work became popular during the 1960's by hippies seeking to de-verbalize human communication. Some of Birdwhistell's work involved making film of people in social situations and analyzing them to show different levels of communication not clearly seen otherwise. He argued that all movements of the body have meaning, and that these non-verbal forms of language, or paralanguage, have a grammar, and can be analyzed in similar ways to spoken language. Birdwhistell has been quoted as saying, "no more than 30 to 35 percent of the social meaning of a conversation or an interaction is carried by the words." He also said that there were no universals in kinesic displays. The latter statement, however, was later disproved by Paul Ekman, who performed a study on facial expressions.

Kinesics are the most important part of non-verbal communication. The movement of the body, or its separate parts, conveys many different meanings. The interpretations of said movements may be culture bound. Since many movements are carried out at a subconscious...
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