Journal of Nonverbal Behavior

, Volume 34, Issue 4, pp 193–206 | Cite as

Nonverbal Reactions to Conversational Interruption: A Test of Complementarity Theory and the Status/Gender Parallel

  • Sally D. Farley
  • Amie M. Ashcraft
  • Mark F. Stasson
  • Rebecca L. Nusbaum
Original Paper


The present research examined nonverbal reactions to conversational interruption (a status-organizing cue). We predicted that the nonverbal reactions to interruption (versus a control condition) would show a different pattern of results than gender differences. Participants (N = 150) were paired with one of four confederates and randomly assigned to either an interruption or control condition. Nine nonverbal behavioral reactions were coded by independent raters. Participants responded to interruption with reciprocal interruptions and increased nodding, as compared to a control condition. Gender differences diverged from those associated with condition. Women smiled, agreed, nodded, and laughed more than men, showing evidence of a greater attempt to facilitate the flow of conversation. We discuss these findings with regard to the dimensions of affiliation and verticality.


Interruption Nonverbal behavior Status Complementarity Gender 



The authors would like to thank Tom Mitchell and Alan Arrowsmith for their helpful comments on this manuscript.


  1. Abele, A. E. (2003). The dynamics of masculine-agentic and feminine-communal traits: Findings from a prospective study. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85, 768–776. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.85.4.768.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Aguinis, H., & Henle, C. A. (2001). Effects of nonverbal behavior on perceptions of a female employee’s power bases. Journal of Social Psychology, 141, 537–549.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. Anderson, K. J., & Leaper, C. (1998). Meta-analyses of gender effects on conversational interruption: Who, what, when, where, and how. Sex Roles, 39, 225–252. doi: 10.1023/A:1018802521676.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Aries, E. J. (1982). Verbal and nonverbal behavior in single-sex and mixed-sex groups: Are traditional sex roles changing? Psychological Reports, 51, 127–134.Google Scholar
  5. Aries, E. (1987). Gender and communication. In P. Shaver & C. Hendrick (Eds.), Sex and gender (pp. 149–176). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  6. Aries, E. (1996). Men and women in interaction: Reconsidering the differences. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Aries, E. J., Gold, C., & Weigel, R. H. (1983). Dispositional and situational influences on dominance behavior in small groups. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 44, 779–786. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.44.4.779.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bilous, F. R., & Krauss, R. M. (1988). Dominance and accommodation in the conversational behaviours of same- and mixed-gender dyads. Language and Communication, 8, 183–194. doi: 10.1016/0271-5309(88)90016-X.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bluhm, C., Widiger, T. A., & Miele, G. M. (1990). Interpersonal complementarity and individual differences. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 58, 464–471. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.58.3.464.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Burgoon, J. K., & Dillman, L. (1995). Gender, immediacy, and nonverbal communication. In P. J. Kalbfleisch & M. J. Cody (Eds.), Gender, power, and communication in human relationships (pp. 63–81). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  11. Burgoon, J. K., & Dunbar, N. E. (2000). An interactionist perspective on dominance-submission: Interpersonal dominance as a dynamic, situationally contingent social skill. Communication Monographs, 67, 96–121.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Burgoon, J. K., & Le Poire, B. A. (1999). Nonverbal cues and interpersonal judgments: Participant and observer perceptions of intimacy, dominance, composure, and formality. Communication Monographs, 66, 105–124.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Carli, L. (1989). Gender differences in interaction style and influence. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 56, 565–576.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Carli, L. L. (1990). Gender, language, and influence. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 59, 941–951.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Chartrand, T., & Bargh, J. (1999). The chameleon effect: The perception–behavior link and social interaction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 76, 893–910. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.76.6.893.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Coates, J. (1993). Women, men and language (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Longman Group.Google Scholar
  17. Dunbar, N. E., Bippus, A. M., & Young, S. L. (2008). Interpersonal dominance in relational conflict: A view from dyadic power theory. Interpersona, 2, 1–33.Google Scholar
  18. Farley, S. D. (2008). Attaining status at the expense of likability: Pilfering power through conversational interruption. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 32, 241–260. doi: 10.1007/s10919-008-0054-x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Halberstadt, A. G., & Saitta, M. B. (1987). Gender, nonverbal behavior, and perceived dominance: A test of the theory. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 53, 257–272. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.53.2.257.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Hall, J. A. (2006). Nonverbal behavior, status, and gender: How do we understand their relations? Psychology of Women Quarterly, 30, 384–391. doi: 10.1111/j.1471-6402.2006.00313.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hall, J. A., Carter, J. D., Jimenez, M. C., Frost, N. A., & Smith LeBeau, L. (2002a). Smiling and relative status in news photographs. Journal of Social Psychology, 142, 500–510.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. Hall, J. A., Coats, E. J., & Smith LeBeau, L. (2005). Nonverbal behavior and the vertical dimension of social relations: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 131, 898–924. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.131.6.898.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Hall, J. A., & Friedman, G. B. (1999). Status, gender, and nonverbal behavior: A study of structured interaction between employees of a company. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 25, 1082–1091. doi: 10.1177/01461672992512002.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Hall, J. A., Horgan, T. G., & Carter, J. D. (2002b). Assigned and felt status in relation to observer-coded and participant-recorded smiling. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 26, 63–81. doi: 10.1023/A:1015683720462.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Helweg-Larsen, M., Cunningham, S. J., Carrico, A., & Pergram, A. M. (2004). To nod or not to nod: An observational study of nonverbal communication and status in female and male college students. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 28, 358–361. doi: 10.1111/j.1471-6402.2004.00152.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Henley, N. M. (1977). Body politics: Power, sex and nonverbal communication. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.Google Scholar
  27. Henley, N. M. (1995). Body politics revisited: What do we know today? In P. J. Kalbfleisch & M. J. Cody (Eds.), Gender, power, and communication in human relationships. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  28. Ho, R., & Mitchell, S. (1982). Students’ nonverbal reaction to tutors’ warm/cold nonverbal behavior. The Journal of Social Psychology, 118, 121–130.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. James, D., & Clarke, S. (1993). Women, men, and interruptions: A critical review. In D. Tannen (Ed.), Gender and conversational interaction (pp. 231–280). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  30. Jones, T. S., & Remland, M. S. (1993). Nonverbal communication and conflict escalation: An attribution-based model. The International Journal of Conflict Management, 4, 119–137. doi: 10.1108/eb022723.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Kennedy, C. W., & Camden, C. (1983). A new look at interruptions. Western Journal of Speech Communication, 47, 45–58.Google Scholar
  32. Kiesler, D. J. (1983). The 1982 interpersonal circle: A taxonomy for complementarity in human transactions. Psychological Review, 90, 185–214. doi: 10.1037/0033-295X.90.3.185.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Kollock, P., Blumstein, P., & Schwartz, P. (1985). Sex and power in interaction: Conversational privileges and duties. American Sociological Review, 50, 34–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. LaFrance, M. (1992). Gender and interruptions: Individual infraction or violation of the social order? Psychology of Women Quarterly, 16, 497–512. doi: 10.1111/j.1471-6402.1992.tb00271.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. McAdams, D. P., Jackson, R. J., & Kirshnit, C. (1984). Looking, laughing, and smiling in dyads as a function of intimacy motivation and reciprocity. Journal of Personality, 52, 261–273. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-6494.1984.tb00881.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Moscowitz, D. S., Ho, M. H., & Turcotte-Tremblay, A. (2007). Contextual influences on interpersonal complementarity. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 33, 1051–1063. doi: 10.1177/0146167207303024.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Mulac, A., & Bradac, J. J. (1995). Women’s style in problem solving interaction: Powerless, or simply feminine? In P. J. Kalbfleisch & M. J. Cody (Eds.), Gender, power, and communication in human relationships (pp. 83–104). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  38. Patterson, M. L. (2006). The evolution of theories of interactive behavior. In V. Manusov & M. L. Patterson (Eds.), The Sage handbook of nonverbal communication (pp. 21–39). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  39. Ridgeway, C. L. (1987). Nonverbal behavior, dominance, and the basis of status in task groups. American Sociological Review, 52, 683–694.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Robinson, L. F., & Reis, H. T. (1989). The effects of interruption, gender, and status on interpersonal perceptions. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 13, 141–153. doi: 10.1007/BF00987046.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Sadler, P., & Woody, E. (2003). Is who you are who you’re talking to? Interpersonal style and complementarity in mixed-sex interactions. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 80–96. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.84.1.80.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  42. Smith-Lovin, L., & Brody, C. (1989). Interruptions in group discussions: The effects of gender and group composition. American Sociological Review, 54, 424–435. doi: 10.2307/2095614.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Stapel, D. A., & Van der Zee, K. I. (2006). The self salience model of other-to-self effects: Integrating principles of self-enhancement, complementarity, and imitation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 90, 258–271. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.90.2.258.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  44. Strong, S. R., Hills, H. I., Kilmartin, C. T., DeVries, H., Lanier, K., Nelson, B. N., et al. (1988). The dynamic relations among interpersonal behaviors: A test of complementarity and anticomplementarity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54, 798–810. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.54.5.798.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  45. Tannen, D. (1990). You just don’t understand: Women and men in conversation. New York, NY: Ballantine.Google Scholar
  46. Tannen, D. (1993). The relativity of linguistic strategies: Rethinking power and solidarity in gender and dominance. In D. Tannen (Ed.), Gender and conversational interaction (pp. 165–188). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  47. Tiedens, L. Z., & Fragale, A. R. (2003). Power moves: Complementarity in dominant and submissive nonverbal behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 558–568. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.84.3.558.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  48. Tiedens, L. Z., Unzueta, M. M., & Young, M. J. (2007). An unconscious desire for hierarchy? The motivated perception of dominance complementarity in task partners. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 93, 402–414. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.93.3.402.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  49. Tracey, T. J. (1994). An examination of the complementarity of interpersonal behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 67, 864–878. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.67.5.864.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  50. Vettin, J., & Todt, D. (2004). Laughter in conversation: Features of occurrence and acoustic structure. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 28, 93–115. doi: 10.1023/B:JONB.0000023654.73558.72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Wagner, D. G., & Berger, J. (1997). Gender and interpersonal task behaviors: Status expectation accounts. Sociological Perspectives, 40, 1–32.Google Scholar
  52. Welsh, P. (1999, January 19). Colleges need higher standards, not high school warranties. USA Today, p. 17AGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sally D. Farley
    • 1
  • Amie M. Ashcraft
    • 2
  • Mark F. Stasson
    • 3
  • Rebecca L. Nusbaum
    • 1
  1. 1.Division of Applied Behavioral SciencesUniversity of BaltimoreBaltimoreUSA
  2. 2.Sociometrics CorporationLos AltosUSA
  3. 3.Metropolitan State UniversitySt. PaulUSA

Personalised recommendations