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Journal of Nonverbal Behavior

, Volume 15, Issue 4, pp 233–259 | Cite as

Relational message interpretations of touch, conversational distance, and posture

  • Judee K. Burgoon
Article

Abstract

According to a social meaning model of nonverbal communication, many nonverbal behaviors have consensually recognized meanings. Two field experiments examined this presumption by investigating the relational message interpretations assigned to differing levels and types of touch, proximity, and posture. Also examined were the possible moderating effects of the communicator characteristics of gender and attractiveness and relationship characteristics of gender composition and status differentials. Results showed that touching typically conveyed more composure, immediacy, receptivity/trust, affection, similarity/depth/equality, dominance, and informality than its absence. The form of touch also mattered, with handholding and face touching expressing the most intimacy, composure, and informality; handholding and the handshake expressing the least dominance, and the handshake conveying the most formality but also receptivity/trust. Postural openness/relaxation paralleled touch in conveying greater intimacy, composure, informality, and similarity but was also less dominant than a closed/tense posture. Close proximity was also more immediate and similar but dominant. Proximity and postural openness together produced differential interpretations of composure, similarity, and affection. Gender initiator attractiveness was more influential than status in moderating interpretations.

Keywords

Social Psychology Field Experiment Postural Openness Communicator Characteristic Nonverbal Behavior 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Copyright information

© Human Sciences Press, Inc. 1991

Authors and Affiliations

  • Judee K. Burgoon
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of CommunicationUniversity of ArizonaTucson

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