Non-Verbal Communication

A* - G syllabus

  • Created by: Thunder12
  • Created on: 26-03-18 16:33

Key Concepts

Non-verbal communication- telling others what we are thinking or feeling or planning by some recognised body language, it can be conscious or unconscious

We talk with our bodies through body language. Body language is communicating something psychically through our body, for example body movement, gestures touching, keeping a distance.

Gestures are body signals- different cultures have different gestures e.g. hand on chin says we are thinking, open hands says we are comfortable/calm

Posture– how we move or twist are body- e.g slumped body says we don’t care

Facial expressions- communicating something through the movement of muscles in the face, for example by moving eyebrows, lips and eyes

E.g. moving eyebrows up= surprise, narrow eyes in anger

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Core Theory

Social Learning Theory= non verbal communication is a learned behaviour rather than a natural instinctive one. It is how a person’s behaviour with, towards and around others develops a s a result of observing and intimidating others, both consciously and unconsciously.

The concepts of this theory (how people could learn non verbal behaviour) are:

  • Observation= to watch someone with the purpose of learning about behaviour
  • Imitation– doing, behaving the same as the model who was observed doing, saying of behaving ( copying)
  • Reinforcement= a process in which a behaviour is strengthened because the consequences are positive, reward makes us do a behaviour again
  • Punishment= negative consequences follow an action, if we are punished we may stop behaving in a certain way
  • Role models- an individual who other people aspire to be like- e.g. celebrities, older siblings

Significant cultural variations in non verbal communication supports the idea than non verbal communication is learnt as you imitate and observe people in your culture e.g. to say goodbye in France is a kiss on the cheek, Brazil shake hands and in Saudi Arabia, no contact is made with women when greeting or saying goodbye.

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Criticisms of the Core Theory

Some non verbal communication continues when it has been punished, e.. a person may have been beaten up for a rude hand gesture but continues to use this

Not everyone can learn new ways of communicating non verbally e.g. autistic children

Some children in the same environment can have different ways of communicating non verbally

SLT ignores the effect of nature on non verbal communication e.g. crying to show distress is a common, natural behaviour not a learnt one

SLT also ignores our evolutionary background in NVC – for example, we might bare our teeth to ward off predators in order to survive

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Alternative Theory

Non verbal communication is instinctive and natural not learnt

Over time humans and animals have evolved to pass on their genes and some non verbal communication has evolved to help us survival and reproduce

E.g. survival ward off enemies therefore natural aggressive body language when threatened, or raise palms to show we are not a threat to diffuse a situation

E.g reproduction- natural to try and impress the opposite sex with open body language/ trying to look attractive

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Core Study

Hypothesis: Different cultures pay attention to different facial cues when meeting and talking to each other. Japanese culture eyes are more important when expressing emotion and in the USA the mouth expresses emotion.


  • Cross –cultural research involving 118 American volunteer student s and 95 Japanese volunteer students
  • Questionnaire- rated on a scale of 1 ( very sad) and 9 (very happy) the emotional expression of 6 different emoticons, with different expressions
  • Participants thanked and debriefed ( ethical)


  • Japanese gave higher ratings to faces with happy eyes
  • American participants gave highest ratings when mouths were happy


  • Supports the hypotheses that non verbal communication is affected by cultural experiences- therefore supporting the social learning theory
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Criticisms of the Core Study

Generalisability: Sample of students was not very representative- the only used one narrow age group of students, you can’t generalise findings to young children or older people. 

Reliability: Use of standardised procedure and same emoticons for everyone = highly controlled and therefore reliable

Application: Supports the social learning theory of non verbal communication – there are clear cultural differences in how we interpret faces for emotions

Validity: The research lacks ecological validity- the study used fake 2d emoticons not real 3d faces. Also the dependent variable was measured very simply- measuring emotions is complex and it may not be reliable to measure them on a 1-9 scale.

Ethics: Very little ethical issues with this study.

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Rehabilitation of offenders

Probation teams use social skills training to teach offenders new ways to communicate (such as using more open body language to diffuse an argument) or the trainer might model expectations, such as correct eye contact to help keep people at ease. The aim of this is to manage difficult situations more effectively in the future and therefore their risk of getting into conflict and re-offending is reduced.

Techniques used:

  • Modelling – correct NVC is modelled by a trainer
  • Imitation – the offender imitates the behaviour
  • Feedback – The trainer gives feedback to help the offender improve
  • Homework – The offender has to now go and practice in the real world in order to improve.
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