Non-Verbal Communication


Key Terms

NVC - telling others what we are thinking, feeling or planning by body movement (it can be conscious or non-conscious

Body Language - communicating something physically with our body 

Facial Expressions - communicating by moving muscles in the face 

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Core Theory- Social Learning Theory

- the social learning theory suggests non-verbal communication is a learnt behaviour rather than a natural, instinctive behaviour

- the theory is about how a person's behaviour with, towards and around others develops as a result of observing and imitating others

Key concepts:

  • observation 
  • imitation
  • reinforcement
  • role models
  • punishment 

We observe others all the time but we only imitate significant others who act as our role models (caring/in authority/similar to ourselves). If this behaviour is strengthened by being rewarded it is reinforced and we are more likely to repeat this behaviour. 

Therefore, we learn body language and facial expressions by imitating and observing others. 


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Core Theory- Social Learning Theory Limitations an


  • does not explain why some behaviours persist even if they are punished
  • some people cannot learn new behaviours 
  • children of the same upbringing can differ
  • it ignores nature

Cultural Variations- 

  • France- all kiss 3 times when they meet others
  • Brazil- men=shake hands, women=kiss 3 times if single and kiss 2 times if married
  • Saudi Arabia- women=no body contact with anyone other than their husband allowed 
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Alternative Theory- Evolution

-supports nature side of the nature vs nurture debate

-it argues human beings and animals are governed by instinct

-in terms of NVC, those behaviours that appear to be universal have evolved to help them to survive/ reproduce


  • clenching fists             -warding off potential enemies and threats
  • showing teeth             - reducing conflict/threat
  • showing palms           - allowing people to co-operate so that they can help each other to
  •                                      survive

In terms of Reproduction

  • stroking self                 -allowing people to flirt with each other
  • winking                        -making a person appear attractive to opposite sex
  • licking lips                   - helping people to communicate within a relationship 
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NVC Core Study- Yuki et al

Aim- Do cultures use different cues to recognise emotions?

Participants- 118 American students from Uni of Ohio

                   - 95 Japanese students fro Uni of Hokkaido

Method- they completed a questionnaire in which they were instructed to rate on a scale 1-9 the emotional expression of six different computer generated emotions which had combinations of both happy and sad eyes and both happy and sad mouths 

Results- Japanese= higher rates to happy eyes

              Americans= higher rates to happy mouths

Conclusions- suggests that we learn our behaviours and we learn our facial expressions which support the Social Learning Theory 

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NVC Core Study- Yuki et al Limitations


  • lacks ecological validity as it uses emoticons rather than real life expressions (lacks internal and external validity)
  • the sample of students was unrepresentative as it was one narrow group of student participants, therefore, lacks internal validity
  •  the dependent variable was measured in a simple way as emotions were measured on a scale of 1-9 so it lacks reliability 
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Applications- Social Skills Training

1) Modelling - trainer provides demonstration of the skill

2) Roleplaying - the trainees apply their understanding in a given situation

3) Feedback - trainer explains the trainee's strengths and weaknesses of the skill they demonstrated 

4) Homework - the trainee applies what they have learnt in a real situation 

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