Intercultural Non-Verbal Communication and the Contested Theory of Universality

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Intercultural Non-Verbal Communication and the Contested Theory of Universality

The following literature review will draw from the currently available body of communications research to summarize the accepted principles and scholarly findings of the six most studied interpersonal non-verbal communication modes, including physical appearance, proxemics, gesturing, eye contact, paralinguistics and facial expressions, within the context of intercultural interactions. As non-verbal communication certainly varies from person to person, this paper will concentrate on the importance of understanding the dimensions and values of a culture and perceived elements of universality, as powerful means for more effectively interrupting and utilizing non-verbal behaviors across cultural boundaries. Finally, the paper will conclude with a review of the concept of universality of facial expressions and paralanguage, particularly, non-linguistic vocal expressions. While the concept is widely accepted amongst communication scholars, some doubt the theory itself, as well as the validity of the core research used to legitimize universality.

Physical Appearance
Borrowing a term from the computer sciences, Novinger (2001) describes physical appearance as the foremost component of our cultural “interface.” How we look, accessorize or even style our hair, can reveal significant insights into the cultural groups to which we currently or historically identify, without us speaking a word or making a single gesture. Some unchangeable elements of physical appearance, such as skin color, serve a distinct role in defining identity and gaining acceptance into cultural groups, while those same characteristics can be perceived as threatening to others (Kirouc & Hess, 1999).
Personal artifacts, or extensions of our physical self (Novinger, 2001, p. 5), allow for the promotion, intentionally or otherwise, of our beliefs and values. For example, we can safely assume that person



References: Archer, D. (1997). Unspoken diversity: cultural differences in gesturing. Qualitative Sociology, 20, pp. 79-105. Doi: 10.1023/A:1024716331692 Ekman, P., Friesen, W Elfenbein, H., & Ambady, N. (2002). On the universality and cultural specificity of emotion recognition: a meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 123(2), 203-235. doi: 10.1037//0033-2909.128.2.203 Farroni, T., Menon, E., Rigato, S., & Johnson, M Gottschall, J. (2008). The “beauty myth” is no myth. Human Nature, 19(2), 174-188. doi: 10.1007/s12110-008-9035-3 Hall, E Hall, E.T. (1966). The distances of man (pp. 113-135). In The hidden dimension. New York: Anchor Books. Izard, C. E. (1994). Innate and Universal Facial Expressions: Evidence From Developmental and Cross-Cultural Research. Psychological Bulletin, 115(2), 288-299. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.115.2.288 Jack, R Jameson, D. (2007). Reconceptualizing cultural identity and its role in intercultural business communication. Journal of Business Communication, 44(3), 195-235. doi: 10.1177/002194360730134 Karpenski, M Kirouc, G. & Hess, U. (1999). Group membership and decoding nonverbal behavior. In Philippot, P., Feldman, R. S., & Coats, E. J. (Eds.), The social context of nonverbal behavior (pp. 182-210). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. Martin, J. N., & Nakayama, T. K. (2013). Nonverbal Codes and Cultural Space. In Intercultural communication in contexts (pp. 272-312). New York: McGraw-Hill. McNeill, D. (1992). Images, inside and out. In Hand and mind: What gestures reveal about thought (pp. 11-35). Chicago, USA: University of Chicago Press. Novinger, T. (2001). Why communicate across cultures? In Intercultural communication: A practical guide (pp. 3-53). Austin, TX: University of Texas Press. Reuschert, E. (1909). Die gebardensprache die taubstummen. Leipzig: von University Press. Sadri, H. A., & Flammia, M. (2011). Non-verbal communication. In Intercultural communication: a new approach to international relations and global challenges (pp. 160-189). New York: Continuum International Pub. Group Inc. Tracy, J. L., & Matsumoto, D. (2008). The spontaneous expression of pride and shame: Evidence for biologically innate nonverbal displays. Proceedings of The National Academy of Sciences, 105(33), 11655–11660

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