Nonverbal Communication. "Gestures, Postures, Movements"

Essay, 2014

11 Pages, Grade: 1,3



1. Introduction

2. How do we perceive human (e)motion?

3. How are different emotions communicated?

4. The study „Nonverbal Channel Use in Communication of Emotion: How May Depend on Why“

5. Experiment 1 Emotion production

6. Experiment 2 Emotion Identification

7. Summary of the study

8. Literature

1. Introduction

Nonverbal communication is the process of communication through sending and receiving wordless (mostly visual) cues between people. It is sometimes mistakenly referred to as body language (kinesics), but nonverbal communication encompasses much more, such as use of voice (paralanguage), touch (haptics), distance (proxemics), and physical environments/appearance.1

This essay, accompanying a presentation that we held during the seminar „Nonverbal Communication“ at the University of Cologne, deals with the topic of nonverbal communication. Nonverbal communication is the overall term for all forms of (human) communication which function without spoken words.2 Instead, carriers of meanings and messages may consist of gestures, postures, body movements, mimics, eye contact, touch, interpersonal distance, or other nonverbal expressions, e.g. laughing.3

The functions of nonverbal forms of communication may be the expression of emotions, the transmission of attitudes (e.g. a contemptuous facial expression may be used to express antipathy), the presentation of ones personal characteristics, or the complementation of a verbal message.4

In our presentation, we focused on nonverbal communication that is conveyed through body features, or as the title of this essay postulates, gestures, postures, and movements. The first part focused specifically on gestures and how they can reflect, change, or even create language and thoughts, but it will not be presented in this essay. Instead, my personal section of the keynote was about a study by Betsy App, Daniel N. McIntosh and Catherine L. Reed from the University of Denver, entitled „Nonverbal Channel Use in Communication of Emotion: How May Depend on Why“.5 This study investigated the hypothesis that different emotions are most effectively conveyed through specific nonverbal channels of communication, specifically: body, face and touch.

2. How do we perceive human (e)motion?

Humans, being highly social creatures, rely heavily on the ability to perceive what others are doing and to infer from gestures and expressions what others may be intending to do. Perceiving the actions, moods, and intentions of other people is one of the most important social skills we possess. Vision provides a very good source of information in support of these skills.6

Early work suggested that the brain may contain mechanisms specialised for the detection of other humans from motion signals.7 Perception of biological motion depends both on the motions of individual dots and the configuration/orientation of the body as a whole, as well as interactions between these local and global cues. An illustrative example that may be used for the perception of human motion is a PL display of emotion. This is an animation of biological motion, in which the activity of a human is portrayed by the relative motions of a small number of markers positioned on the head and the joints of the body.8 Given this abstract presentation of human movement, one may be able to identify e.g. if the person displayed is a man or a woman, what he or she is doing, or even who exactly the person is (of course this may not always result in a perfectly correct response). The sensitivity of the PL emotion display increases with the number of illuminated dots, and the duration of exposure to the animation.

Observers usually have no trouble identifying what an actor is doing in a given PL display even when the number of possible activities is quite large. Observers also readily perceive the identity and sex of a PL-defined walker, although recognition performance is not always perfect.9

So this information may help to solve the question on how we perceive human (e)motion. Besides gestures and other forms of nonverbal communication, body postures play an important role in perceiving and correctly identifying human motion. Human action visually radiates sociel cues to which we are extremely sensitive.

Recent studies have shown that body postures are more accurately recognised when an emotion is compared with a different or neutral emotion.10 For example, a person feeling angry would portray dominance over the other, and his or her posture displays approach tendencies. When comparing this to a person feeling fearful, he or she would feel weak, submissive and his/her posture would probably display avoidance tendencies, the opposite of an angry person.

Sitting or standing postures may also indicate one’s emotions. A person sitting on a chair who leans forward, with his or her head nodding along with the discussion, implies that he or she is open, relaxed and generally ready to listen. On the other hand, a person who has his or her legs and arms crossed with the foot kicking slightly implies that he or she is feeling impatient and emotionally detached from the discussion.11 In a standing discussion, a person who stands with arms or with feet pointed towards the speaker could suggest that he or she is attentive and interested in the conversation.

3. How are different emotions communicated?

Answering questions about what another is feeling and how one should respond to that emotional state with its correlated actions is a key adaptational problem. Moreover, successfully communicating one’s likely next action is an effective way to avoid risk or expending additional energy, or to elicit supportive behaviors. The importance of such communication precedes the evolution of verbal abilities (Darwin), therefore, it is not surprising that people communicate emotions through several nonverbal channels, including the face, body, and touch.12 The study by App et. al, which was the foundation of our presentation, subsequently demonstrated that people are communicating emotions through several nonverbal chnannels, e.g. face, body, or touch.


1 Nonverbal Communication Theories: The Encyclopedia of Communication Theory, 2009.

2 M. Knapp, J. A. Hall, 2006: „Nonverbal Communication in Human Interaction“.

3 N. M. Henley, 1977: „Body Politics: Power, sex, and nonverbal communication“.

4 Ebd.

5 B. App, D. N. McIntosh, C. L. Reed, 2011: „Nonverbal Channel Use in Communication of Emotion: How May Depend on Why“. American Psychological Association.

6 B. App, D. N. McIntosh, C. L. Reed, 2011: „Nonverbal Channel Use in Communication of Emotion: How May Depend on Why“.

7 N . Troje , C . Westhoff, 2006: „The Inversion Effect in Biological Motion Perception: Evidence for a "Life Detector“?".

8 R. Blake, M. Shiffrar, 2007: „Perception of Human Motion“.

9 Ebd.

10 Mondloch, Catherine J.; Nelson, Nicole L.; Horner, Matthew; Pavlova, Marina, 2013: „Asymmetries of Influence: Differential Effects of Body Postures on Perceptions of Emotional Facial Expressions“.

11 Ebd.

12 B. App, D. N. McIntosh, C. L. Reed, 2011: „Nonverbal Channel Use in Communication of Emotion: How May Depend on Why“.

Excerpt out of 11 pages


Nonverbal Communication. "Gestures, Postures, Movements"
University of Cologne  (Department Psychologie)
Theorien der Kommunikations- und Medienpsychologie
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ISBN (Book)
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nonverbal communication, gestures, postures, movements, communication
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Frederik Santer (Author), 2014, Nonverbal Communication. "Gestures, Postures, Movements", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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