Nonverbal dominance in the communication of affect: A myth?

Abstract

The claim that nonverbal signals are more important than verbal signals in the communication of affect is widely accepted and has had considerable impact on therapy, counselling, and education. In a typical experiment, subjects are presented with a long series of artificially constructed inconsistent messages (messages in which the verbal and nonverbal components are opposite in valence) and asked to judge the strength of the emotion felt by the encoder. In such studies little attempt is made to camouflage the nature of the stimuli or the intent of the experimenter. In this study, it is argued that the absence of camouflage (defined as naturally occurring consistent messages) may bias the results in favour of the nonverbal dominance effect, so that as the level of camouflage is increased, the size of the nonverbal dominance effect is decreased. Four groups of subjects (34 subjects per group) were required to rate a series of audiovisually presented messages. The level of camouflage varied between groups: 0% (all messages presented were inconsistent), 50% (half of the messages presented were consistent and half were inconsistent), 83% (the majority of messages presented were consistent), and 94%. The results clearly demonstrated that the nonverbal dominance effect was present when the level of camouflage was low, and disappeared when the level of camouflage was high. The implications of these findings for the nonverbal dominance hypothesis are discussed.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

References

  1. Allen, V. L. & Atkinson, M. L. (1981). Identification of spontaneous and deliberate behavior.Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 5 224–237.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Argyle, M., Alkema, F., & Gilmour, R. (1972). The communication of friendly and hostile attitudes by verbal and non-verbal signals.European Journal of Social Psychology, 1 385–400.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Argyle, M., Salter, V., Nicholson, H., Williams, M., & Burgess, P. (1970). The communication of inferior and superior attitudes by verbal and nonverbal signals.British Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 9 222–231.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Bugental, D., Kaswan, J. W., & Love, L. R. (1970). Perception of contradictory meanings conveyed by verbal and nonverbal channels.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 16 647–655.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  5. Burns, K. L. & Beier, E. G. (1973). Significance of vocal and visual channels in the decoding of emotional meaning.Journal of Communication, 23 118–130.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  6. Danziger, K. (1976).Interpersonal communication. New York: Pergamon Press.

    Google Scholar 

  7. Davis, F. (1973).Inside intuition: What we know about nonverbal communication. New York: McGraw-Hill.

    Google Scholar 

  8. De Paulo, B. M., Rosenthal, R., Green, C. R., & Rosenkrantz, J. (1982). Diagnosing deceptive and mixed messages from verbal and nonverbal cues.Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 18 433–446.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Fast, J. (1970).Body language. New York: M. Evans.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Friedman, H. S. (1978). The relative strength of verbal versus nonverbal cues.Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 4 147–150.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Furnham, A., Trevethen, R., & Gaskell, G. (1981). The relative contribution of verbal, vocal, and visual channels to person perception: Experiment and critique.Semiotica, 37 39–57.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Graves, J. R. & Robinson, J. D. (1976). Proxemic behavior as a function of inconsistent verbal and nonverbal messages.Journal of Counseling Psychology, 23 333–338.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Haase, R. F. & Tepper, D. T. (1972). Nonverbal components of empathic communication.Journal of Counseling Psychology, 19 417–424.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Hays, W. L. (1965).Statistics. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

    Google Scholar 

  15. Hess, E. H. (1965). Attitudes and pupil size.Scientific American, 212 46–54.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  16. Krauss, R. M., Apple, W., Morency, W., Wenzel, C., & Winton, W. (1981). Verbal, vocal and visible factors in judgements of another's affect.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 40 312–320.

    Google Scholar 

  17. Matlin, M. & Stang, D. (1978).The Pollyanna principle. Massachusetts: Schenkman.

    Google Scholar 

  18. McGuigan, F.J. (1963). The experimenter: A neglected stimulus object.Psychological Bulletin, 60 421–428.

    Google Scholar 

  19. Mehrabian, A. & Wiener, M. (1967). Decoding of inconsistent communication.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 6 109–114.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Nierenberg, G. I. & Calero, H. H. (1971).How to read a person like a book. New York: Hawthorn.

    Google Scholar 

  21. Pease, A. (1981).Body language: How to read others' thoughts by their gestures. Sydney: Camel Publishing Company.

    Google Scholar 

  22. Rosenthal, R. (1963). On the social psychology of the psychological experiment: The experimenter's hypothesis as unintended determinant of experimental results.American Scientist, 51 268–283.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  23. Scherer, K. R., London, H., & Wolf, J. J. (1973). The voice of confidence: Paralinguistic cues and audience evaluation.Journal of Research in Personality, 7 31–44.

    Google Scholar 

  24. Strahan, C. & Zytowski, D. G. (1976). Impact of visual, vocal, and lexical cues on judgments of counselor qualities.Journal of Counseling Psychology, 23 387–393.

    Google Scholar 

  25. Trimboli, A. (1984).Communication of affect. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Sydney.

  26. Walker, M. B. (1977). The relative importance of verbal and nonverbal cues in the expression of confidence.Australian Journal of Psychology, 29 45–57.

    Google Scholar 

  27. Walker, M. B. & Trimboli, C. (1983). The expressive function of the eye flash.Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 8 3–13.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Michael B. Walker.

Additional information

This research was supported by a grant from the Australian Research Grants Scheme (Reference No. A78515618).

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Trimboli, A., Walker, M.B. Nonverbal dominance in the communication of affect: A myth?. J Nonverbal Behav 11, 180–190 (1987). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00990236

Download citation

Keywords

  • Social Psychology
  • Verbal Signal
  • Typical Experiment
  • Considerable Impact
  • Dominance Effect