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What is Nonverbal Communication?

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Psychology
Wordcount: 3308 words Published: 18th May 2020

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This paper explores the non- verbal messages used in romantic and not relationships. Of particular concern is how do couples/partners avow and attribute certainty qualities to themselves and others around them based on nonverbal ques being perceived by one party or more. These ques cause for an identification of factors such as of satisfaction, trust, and dissatisfaction. We analyzed twelve scholarly journals to gather information about decoding nonverbal immediacy ques. Of the twelve journals the majority of them focus on how nonverbal communication is perceived and how that perception affects cognitive decision making, something that is innate in all people, and that is why this study is of value to the topic of Communication and Gender. The other journals decode nonverbal immediacy ques that explain relationship dynamics based on what is observed by the researcher and methods used to back certain hypothesis brought forth by the article. 

 Keywords: Nonverbal, Communication, Relational Message

Nonverbal Communication in Relationships: A Literature Review

For this literature review, we are interested in examining nonverbal communication in relationships romantic and not. Of particular interest is how nonverbal communication is interpreted and used to maintain relational satisfaction or how it’s used to show relational dissatisfaction. Across this particular field of research, studies have been conducted to better explain the normalcy of differences of nonverbal communication amongst the two genders. Throughout this review we examine the reasoning behind the actions individuals undertake when participating in nonverbal communication within their relationship. Ques like immediacy and openness of body language can give clues to a person’s interest level in such particular context. From this learning perspective we are able to understand many things about a person’s mental disposition, and that is what draws me to the topic the most. The idea that we can derive meaning from nonverbal communication, and the fact that it can tell us so much about the relationship between two people, and the person itself. From this study of nonverbal communication in relationships we are able to uncover what a person really thinks of us, their level of commitment, level of interest, and overarching attitude about the union in general. This is a viable field of study, but it is often skewed due to certain focuses on a particular aspect in the field, like electronics effects on nonverbal ques. All in all, we are interested in levels of interest and perceived interest in relationships, and how the masses adapt to these changes in culture and communication.

What is Nonverbal Communication?

To understand Nonverbal communication, we must define what it is. Communication may be defined as transfer of messages without words. It comprises visible expressions like touching, eye contacts and gazes, facial expressions and intonations, as well as less noticeable messages like dress, posture and space between human beings. With this understanding we can conclude two things, communication extends its reach past verbal code, and subtle actions such as dress and personal space communicate much more than what is said.  Throughout this research we have come to multiple conclusions about this field’s focus of study as well as practicality in the modern world. Studies have been conducted to understand the relation of a likeness in body language as well as similarities of physique that control and distort our que reading ability of non- verbal ques. This is important, because body language may play a vital role in one’s nonverbal communication process of understanding. In the 2016 study entitled “Nonverbal communication of similarity via the torso: it’s in the bag” researchers Angela Bahns, Christian Crandall, Omri Gilath, and Jeremy Wilmer (2016) conclude that nonverbal communication includes more body ques than known at the time, and that’s why they conduct these research efforts. In the study they examine the link between nonverbal body language and perceived conversational interest. The study notes how the torso of the body tells a great deal about a person’s early stage perception as well as attraction to the relational conversational partner. A method was produced were participants were given black and clear bags to were around their torso, and then assigned a partner from a large group through subjective selection.  The study finds that those wearing a black bag were more likely to connect with partners they had nothing in common with versus the clear bags who usually matched with partners more akin to their likeness.

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Culture norms within gender communication also play a role in the research of understanding nonverbal communication. Relational partners in China and America experience finite differences in their non- verbal communication, but not enough to be considered foreign, human nature is human nature. In Yang Chang’s (2015) Cultural norms and nonverbal communication: an illustration, he explains the differences of American and Chinese students in the class room. The study found that these norms are subjective to the group that practices them, and that underling norms govern some behaviors and are present in everyday life. Meaning that every group has its own set of cultural rules that communicate nonverbal ques which we use to communicate our level of interest when in conversation.  it abides by. Rules that incorporate ideas of stereotype, labeling, and identity. The factors of these norms are measured by consensus and intensity. We see this exert modeled parallel with the information learned in class.  A student in the USA versus China may exhibit different immediacy of cultural norms, but the student will exhibit similar types of non- verbal communicative behavior as their counterpart across the Pacific Ocean.

Nonverbal communication in relationships extend to love and attachment style through the way they are shown displayed and received. In a 2010 study entitled “Relational Quality Indicators and Love Styles as Predictors of Negative Relational Maintenance Behaviors in Romantic Relationships” it examines the role of love styles in the early stages of romantic relationships. The study examines how individuals expressed interest or disinterest towards their partners. Goodboy & Myers (2010) found results that indicated some individuals engaging in negative relational maintenance behaviors as well as others engaging in positive relational maintenance behaviors. For the most part this study examines the negative relational maintenance behaviors such as; jealousy induction, avoidance, spying, infidelity, and destructive conflict allowing for control that come about. The study is focused on the negative behavior because the authors want to prove if love predicts the use for negative relational messages. In most cases among the two-hundred and five individuals involved they find that it does. The individuals love styles were indicated by secret test and the scores given by one of the partners. The results indicate that the nonverbal communication among these partners indicated the satisfaction of the relationship. The data suggest that love styles are associated with individual differences and personal perception. (Goodboy & Myers, 2010, p. 74).

We can define Nonverbal communication within relationships in variety of ways as listed above. Its definition is singular in purpose towards its application. We notice these differences depending on the relationship at hand.  Non – verbal ques are different depending on the person’s knowledge level. Per say, a child’s level of competence in relation to an adult when decoding messages is vastly different. To understand this phenomenon a study was conducted were peer likeability in children during early years of schooling was judged and recorded. Ninety girls and boys were given test of emotional knowledge in relation to socially appropriate behavior to peer likeability. Socially appropriate behavior was tested in relation towards the child’s emotional intelligence (Sette, Spinrad, Baumgartner, 2016, p. 533). From this, we conclude that young children possess a sense of communication competency learned through social interaction.

This field of study encompasses facial recognition as well. In Yoo & Noyes (2015) “Recognition of facial expressions of negative emotions in romantic relationships” the authors encapsulate key concepts of understanding a romantic partner’s facial ques. The study follows pervious research of the field, but is the first of its type related to the context. The study examines the recognition of negative facial expression in romantic relationships. The study finds that partners that tend to notice negative emotions from a partner’s face are more likely to use less conflict engaging behaviors that lead to less disputes. Which in return, lead to higher relational satisfaction. These finding are important to the study, because there new and insightful. It also leads to the question of ‘Why is it important?’ in the first place.


Why Are These Studies of Value?

The study of ‘Nonverbal Messages in relationships’ are valuable, because through this understanding we may decipher the world and people around us with more ease and understanding. Kidwell and Hasford (2014) review the sales retention of potential customers in relation to the seller’s creditability. The study reviews and extends the literature on emotional ability as it impacts nonverbal communications from the perspective of potential customers, depending on sales influence technique. The methods being used analyzes four dimensions of emotional ability. The four aspects influence customer to salesperson trust, and emotional ability to cause a sell or rejection. This is important and valuable because we can conclude that physical traits have a huge impact on nonverbal communication perception. Important factors that play a role in deciphering the importance of this study include ques that tell us more about our own perception of are effectiveness. 

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In, “A comparison of the relationship between instructor nonverbal immediacy and teacher credibility in Brazilian and U.S. classrooms” researchers find a study that takes 66 Brazilian students and 100 American students in the south eastern United States to complete measures judging nonverbal immediacy and source credibility amongst the effeteness of their professor. The study measures were based in three factors; credibility, competence, and trustworthiness. The relations found that among the three, Brazilian students exhibited more of an importance on the second factors, whereas the American students did not (Santilli, Miller & Matt, 2011, p.266). Meaning that, nonverbal codes in relationships include one’s character values as well as physical traits.  

This study is important, because through it we can gain insight on gestures, their meanings and how they play a role in relationship meaning and give us insight on how and why their important to the topic of non- verbal communication. In “Gesture production in language impairment: its quality, not quantity, that matters” (2017) the researchers note in a study how gesture and language form a tightly knit and linked communication system among children with speaking disabilities. In which gesture such as nonverbal cues have a positive impact on communication whereas the absence of these cues prove to be detrimental in social commination (Wray, Saunders, Mcguire, Cousins & Norbury, 2017, p. 60).

What can Nonverbal Communication in Relationships tell us

Nonverbal ques can alert someone of our interest towards them within perceived affection. The ques can also assist us in the comprehension of relationship status, if it’s excelling or contrasting. So many conclusions can be deducted by learning the inference of what’s being portrayed by a personal nonverbal ques. According to Bodie & Villaume (2008, p.244) a study exhibits the relational nonverbal behavior cues of handholding in romantic relationships. Results support the hypotheses, that the way of hand orientation shows cues to dominance in a relationship as well as relational satisfaction. The distance between elbows also shows the trait of relational satisfaction. We can get understanding of dominance in a relationship and how nonverbal ques such as hand holding shed light on a couple attraction to one another. Other nonverbal communication habits are singular to certain groups, meaning they might have an added focus on one part of nonverbal communication. In “Nonverbal Immediacy and Attachment Styles in Dating: A Comparison between Us American and Chinese College Students” Gao & Lin (2014, p. 55) note in their findings differences of communication between Chinese and American students.   This study examines whether US American and Chinese college students exhibit different nonverbal behaviors and attachment styles in dating relationships. 92 students took online surveys to judge their relational immediacy and attachment styles. The study finds that when it comes to attachment styles the two study groups do not vary that much, but did vary when it came to immediacy differences within the Chinese student community that they exhibited more of this trait.

 Nonverbal communication can also be a big signifier when it comes to perceived intimacy. In a 1989 study entitled “Perceived relational intimacy and relational message content” researchers find that the study focuses on how relational messages verbal and nonverbal show the link to how people regard each other. The study explores 12 fundamental themes of relational message content. This study examines the differences in perceived relational message content across relationships that vary in intimacy (Hale, Lunby & Mongeau, 1989, p. 94). We are able to judge perceived relational intimacy to infer closeness between couples. Perceptions play a big role in this as well. In “Nonverbal communication and marital adjustment and satisfaction: the role of decoding relationship relevant and relationship irrelevant affect” researchers shed some light on marital satisfaction through the lenses of nonverbal communication. They note the study focuses on the link between martial satisfaction and the perception of nonverbal cues. The study was conducted around couples of husband and wives. The results find that relational messages were perceived based on the individual’s marital satisfaction. Throughout, the study does not find many differences from men and women’s relational message perceptions (Koerner & Fitzpatrick, 2002, p.34). This exert leads us to concur that how we perceive others depends a lot on how positively we view the person in our own context.  This backs up how nonverbal communication encapsulates a large number of ques and viewpoints to understanding relational communication as well as what it uncovers about a person and their perception.




 Throughout this review we showcase the results of influential scholars in the field of nonverbal communication. After reading this review we can deduct some prominent ideas about relational messages that flow through the channel of nonverbal communication. Theories like physical attraction having a positive effect on persuasion and how certain lovers act out of in jealously to regain equal footing in a relationship. We covered the idea of people taking a liken to others that resemble their body language in “Nonverbal communication of similarity via the torso: it’s in the bag”, and even uncovered how people outside of American culture respond to one and another through these nonverbal ques. We feel that a great deal of work has been done in this topic, and honestly we found more material than we thought was available pertaining to the topic. These readings expanded upon my knowledge greatly and now I have a platform of information to hold myself on when I return to the topic again. What we would like to see are more studies being done to focus on nonverbal immediacy across national lines, meaning we would like to compare people of different nations and compare their nonverbal ques to that of the U.S and examine their level of perceived intimacy compared to ours. All in all, great research was conducted by all of the scholars included.


  • Bahns, A. J., Crandall, C. S., Gillath, O., & Wilmer, J. B. (2016). Nonverbal Communication of Similarity Via the Torso: It’s in the Bag. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior,40, 151-170.
  • Bodie, G. D., & Villaume, W. A. (2008). Men and Women Holding Hands Revisited: Effects of Mutual Engagement and Hand Dominance on Attributions of Cross-Sex Handholding. Communication Research Reports,25, 243-254.
  • Chang, Y. (. (2015). Cultural Norms and Nonverbal Communication: An Illustration. Communication Teacher,29, 191-195.
  • Gao, H., & Lin, Y. (2014). Nonverbal Immediacy and Attachment Styles in Dating: A Comparison Between US American and Chinese College Students. Ohio Communication Journal.,52, 55-63.
  • Goodboy, A. K., Myers, S. A., & Communicat, M. O. (2010). Relational Quality Indicators and Love Styles as Predictors of Negative Relational Maintenance Behaviors in Romantic Relationships. Communication Reports,23, 65-78.
  • Hale, J. L., Lunby, J. C., & Mongeau, P. A. (1989). Perceived relational intimacy and relational message content. Communication Research Reports,6, 94-99.
  • Kidwell, B., & Hasford, J. (2014). Emotional Ability and Nonverbal Communication. Psychology & Marketing,31, 526-538.
  • Koerner, A., & Fitzpatrick, M. A. (2002). Nonverbal communication and marital adjustment and satisfaction: The role of decoding relationship relevant and relationship irrelevant affect. Communication Monographs,69, 33-51.
  • Santilli, V., Miller, A. N., & Katt, J. (2011). A Comparison of the Relationship Between Instructor Nonverbal Immediacy and Teacher Credibility in Brazilian and U.S. Classrooms. Communication Research Reports,28, 266-274.
  • Sette, S., Spinrad, T. L., & Baumgartner, E. (2016). The Relations of Preschool Children’s Emotion Knowledge and Socially Appropriate Behaviors to Peer Likability. International Journal of Behavioral Development,41, 532-541.
  • Wray, C., Saunders, N., Mcguire, R., Cousins, G., & Norbury, C. F. (2017). Gesture Production in Language Impairment: Its Quality, Not Quantity, That Matters. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research,60, 969-982.
  • Yoo, S. H., & Noyes, S. E. (2015). Recognition of Facial Expressions of Negative Emotions in Romantic Relationships. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior,40, 1-12.


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