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Nonverbal behaviors as indices of arousal: Extension to the psychotherapy context

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Abstract

In an investigation guided by the premise that overt nonverbal indices may often be practical and valid indicators of arousal, Burgoon, Kelley, Newton, and Keeley-Dyreson (1989) found different nonverbal behaviors associated with arousal intensity and with positively and negatively valenced arousal. The current investigation extends that research to a new context, examining (1) the ability of a global measure of observed arousal and specific nonverbal indices of arousal intensity and valence to detect presumed nonlinear arousal changes during psychotherapy, (2) the differential impact of nonverbal indicators across phases of a therapy session, and (3) the relationship of nonverbal indicators to therapy outcome. Raters judged all-channel global arousal or specific kinesic and vocalic nonverbal behaviors during Focused Expressive Psychotherapy (FEP) sessions, during which high levels of negative arousal are evoked. Manifest global arousal, random movement/self-adaptors, and kinesic pleasantness conformed to hypothesized nonlinear patterns across time within therapy sessions. Nonverbal correlates of manifest global arousal varied across therapy phases. Moderate manifest arousal, especially random movement/self-adaptors and vocal tension, and high vocal expressiveness during the middle of the therapy work session were most predictive of patients' self-reported resolution at the end of therapy.

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Portions of this research were supported through grant no. MH-R01-39859 from the National Institute of Mental Health and were presented in an earlier version to the annual meeting of the Speech Communication Association, Chicago, November 1990.

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Burgoon, J.K., Le Poire, B.A., Beutler, L.E. et al. Nonverbal behaviors as indices of arousal: Extension to the psychotherapy context. J Nonverbal Behav 16, 159–178 (1992). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00988032

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