Non-Verbal Behaviour

Whether telepathy, the ability to read minds, is real or a trick may be questioned at times. Sometimes people know what we are thinking without us saying it. How can this be true if telepathy is not a real phenomenon? 

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    The answer is non-verbal behaviour. Our body language, facial expressions, eye contact or how we maintain our personal space can give away what we are thinking without explicitly communicating it in words.

    When you're shopping in your city centre, to show that you are not interested in talking to people who are trying to sell goods, you may try to maintain distance, avoid eye contact and show no interest in your expressions so that they do not come to you.

    • To start with, we will look at the non-verbal behaviour meaning and examples of non-verbal behaviour, including non-verbal situation-specific examples such as non-verbal challenging behaviour.
    • Next, we will take a look at non-verbal behaviour in psychology. In this section, we will cover additional research, theories and approaches that have attempted to explain non-verbal behaviour.
    • We will look at Darwin's theory, evidence that non-verbal behaviour is innate, and the opposing view of the behaviour as learned.
    • To finish, we will summarise the key points and apply this to understand the importance of non-verbal behaviour.

    Non-Verbal Behaviour, Palmistry and tarot set, StudySmarterSome question whether fortune tellers can predict what type of person we are or whether they make predictions based on our verbal and non-verbal behaviour, vector created by Golub Alexandra- freepik.com.

    The Non-verbal Behaviour Meaning

    As you can probably guess, this behaviour isn't expressed through language.

    Non-verbal behaviour is an unspoken tool used to express thoughts and feelings, typically done so through facial expressions, body language, gestures, and eye contact.

    Non-verbal behaviour can include pointing to someone to get their attention. Many people talk with their hands to emphasise their points.

    Examples of Non-verbal Behaviour

    The type of behaviour shown needs to be understood by considering the context of the situation to understand the meaning behind the non-verbal behaviour. Examples of non-verbal behaviour are:

    • Eye contact - we may fixate our eyes on someone else's eyes when trying to get their attention.
    • Body language - when feeling anxious, we may slump, or when we feel confident, we may stand up straight. Gestures and posture are examples of body language communication.
    • Personal space - we may maintain a considerable distance from someone when we are uncomfortable or do not want to be disturbed by others.

    Non-verbal Challenging Behaviour

    Let's look at a hypothetical scenario to understand how non-verbal, challenging behaviour may be used to express anger.

    Johnny just discovered that his girlfriend cheated on him, so he decided to confront her. As she tried to explain herself, he fixated his gaze on her sternly, stood very close to her, frowning, crossed his arms and often shook his head.

    Let's break down the example above to understand how Johnny uses non-verbal behaviour in this confrontational situation.

    • The fixated stern gaze and frowning send the message of anger and are often used to make others uncomfortable.
    • Standing close is also used to make others uncomfortable as it involves getting into the others' personal space.
    • Crossing arms usually suggests that they are not open to the conversation and the person, essentially communicating a physical and unspoken barrier.
    • When Johnny shook his head, it may indicate his disbelief and expressed that he disagreed with what was said.

    From this, we can understand that non-verbal behaviour is used to express what we sometimes cannot or try to avoid saying out loud, and its meaning can vary across situations.

    Non-Verbal Behaviour, Various angry people arguing, StudySmarterWe use different forms of non-verbal behaviour such as hand gestures to express to others how we are feeling, vector created by upklyak- freepik.com.

    Non-verbal Behaviour Psychology Explanations

    Let's take a look at research, theories and approaches that have attempted to explain non-verbal behaviour. We will look at Darwin's theory, evidence that non-verbal behaviour is innate, and the opposing view of the behaviour as learned.

    Darwin's evolutionary theory of non-verbal behaviour

    Charles Darwin, a famous evolutionary theorist, proposed the theory of evolution and natural selection. He argued that humans evolved via survival of the fittest, and our behaviour is motivated by our desire to survive.

    According to Darwin, non-verbal behaviour is purposeful and learned from early evolution. The purpose is to reduce potential threats that may decrease our chance of survival.

    Animals sometimes show their teeth to scare away potential predators. It is a sign indicating they are getting ready to attack. Darwin suggested humans bare their teeth to indicate fear or threaten aggressors when they are angry, despite humans no longer fighting with their teeth.

    It is an aggression tactic, according to Darwin.

    Darwin proposed that adaptive people are more likely to survive and reproduce. These individuals use previous successful tactics and adapt these to succeed in their current environment.

    Using the example above, when we see someone is ready to fight if they bare their teeth and adopt an aggressive stance, people are less likely to engage with them due to the potential threat.

    Non-Verbal Behaviour, Picture of evolution from ape to human, StudySmarterAccording to Darwin, humans have evolved through natural selection and those who inherit 'successful' genes are more likely to survive, vector created by vectorpouch- freepik.com.

    Moreover, Darwin proposed our body is built to express non-verbal behaviour that is adaptive. When we are scared, the body automatically responds by heightening activity in the nervous system, which leads to increased heart rate, panting and dilated pupils. When others see this, they may be inclined to help, or it may help the individual flee from the situation if they think they are in danger.

    Overall, body language, according to Darwin, remains as a feature of communication in humans despite complex language use as it aids survival in some form, and increases the chances of reproduction in a social environment.

    Evaluation of Darwin's Theory of non-verbal behaviour

    The strength of this approach as there is clear evidence that everyone's body responds to stressful responses with the fight or flight response.

    • The fight or flight response usually is the same for everyone in that it causes increased heart rate and pupil dilation, amongst other responses. The difference is that what triggers the response may differ between people, e.g. some people may activate the fight or flight response when giving a presentation, or when they see a snake.
    • Darwin's theory can be applied to understand these individual differences because individuals perceive different stressors as threats.

    However, there are weaknesses, too, as research has indicated that non-verbal behaviour is not universal.

    • Yuki (2007) found that how emotions are expressed and interpreted is influenced by our culture. Therefore, Darwin's approach can be considered reductionist as it does not account for all factors contributing to the use and interpretation of non-verbal behaviour.

    Evidence that Non-verbal Behaviour is Innate

    Darwin's theory suggests that non-verbal behaviour is innate, meaning we are born with the knowledge of how to use and understand them. Neonates support the hypothesis as newborns are too young to learn non-verbal behaviour, yet, they smile when they are happy, cry when they require attention and laugh. These adaptive functions increase their chances of survival, for example, crying and making parents aware they are hungry.

    Further evidence that non-verbal behaviour is innate arises from research on sensory-deprived people. People born blind would have no idea what non-verbal behaviour looks like, so if their behaviour is similar to those who can see, it can be inferred that the behaviour is innate rather than learnt.

    Matsumoto and Willingham (2009) compared photos from 76 blind judo athletes and 84 sighted judo athletes during the Olympics and Paralympics. The athletes were competing on behalf of 23 countries. During monumental moments the researchers took photos of them so their expressions could be rated and compared later.

    The photos showed that blind athletes expressed the same expressions as normal-sighted athletes when angry, contempt, disgusted, sad, surprised and many types of smiles. However, there were some differences in other types of expressions used. The results suggest some biological elements in facial expressions and support the notion that non-verbal behaviour is innate.

    Evidence that Non-verbal Behaviour is Learned

    Evidence that non-verbal behaviour is learned is indicated by how the reasons and how we use non-verbal behaviour have changed over the years.

    Previously we greeted people by bowing or courtesying; this then changed to shaking hands. Since COVID-19, communication in greetings has changed to maintaining distance and waving.

    If non-verbal behaviour is innate, it would remain constant and not change with time, indicating that the behaviour is learned.

    And if the behaviours were innate, then we would expect them to be universal, but research such as Yuki et al. (2007) has found cultural differences in non-verbal behaviour.

    • The study aimed to investigate if culture influences how people interpret emotions.
    • The study compared the answers of Japanese and American students.
    • Participants were given a questionnaire with emoticons; the emoticons had six differences in eyes and mouths to indicate different emotions. Participants rated on a scale of one (sad) to nine (happy) how they interpreted each emoticon.
    • For example, Americans use :) to indicate happiness, whereas Japanese students use (^ _^) to indicate happiness. The eyes indicate emotion for Japanese students, whereas the mouth indicates happiness for American students. The eyes change in emoticons for Japanese students, so for a sad emoticon it would change to (;_;), and the mouth changes, for instance, to :( for American students.
    • The study found that Japanese students rated faces with happy eyes as the happiest and emoticons with sad eyes as the saddest. The American students rated faces with happy mouths as the happiest and sad mouths as the unhappiest.
    • The study's results indicated that culture influences how we express and understand emotions.

    Importance of Non-verbal behaviour

    To wrap up our learning of understanding non-verbal behaviour, let's briefly discuss the importance of non-verbal behaviour.

    Non-verbal behaviour can help us express what we are trying to say without using words. For instance, children who can't talk can use non-verbal behaviour to indicate hunger, happiness or the need for a nappy change. In addition, it can help others understand how we are feeling. As Darwin suggests, there are evolutionary advantages to this. Imagine someone is followed; they may not be able to call out for help because this may put them in more danger. Instead, the person may signal someone for help.

    Non-Verbal Behaviour - Key takeaways

    • Non-verbal behaviour is an unspoken tool used to express thoughts and feelings, typically done so through facial expressions, body language, gestures, and eye contact.
    • Non-verbal behaviour psychology has proposed various theories and evidence concerning whether the behaviour is innate or learned, such as Darwin's theory of non-verbal behaviour and research evidence of the behaviour being innate versus learned.
    • Babies use non-verbal behaviour to communicate their wants and needs, an example of the innate nature of non-verbal communication.
    • Darwin's theory of non-verbal behaviour suggests that it is innate and has evolutionary and adaptive purposes.
    • Yuki et al. (2007) established how culture affects the interpretation of emotions through investigating emoticon expression understanding in American and Japanese students.

    References

    1. Matsumoto, D., & Willingham, B. (2009). Spontaneous facial expressions of emotion of congenitally and noncongenitally blind individuals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
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    Frequently Asked Questions about Non-Verbal Behaviour

    What is non verbal challenging behaviour?

    Non-verbal challenging behaviour is the non-verbal communication we may use in a difficult situation. 


    For example, we may get into a person's personal space to make them feel uncomfortable or cross our arms across our body to indicate that we do not feel open towards the other. 

    What does nonverbal behaviour mean?

    Non-verbal behaviour is an unspoken tool used to express thoughts and feelings, typically done so through facial expressions, body language, gestures, and eye contact. 

    What is a characteristic of nonverbal behaviour?

    A characteristic of non-verbal behaviour is body language, such as using gestures and posture. Eye contact, facial expressions, and personal distance between one another are also characteristics of nonverbal behaviour.

    Why is nonverbal behaviour important?

    Non-verbal behaviour can help us express what we are trying to say without using words. For instance, children who can't talk can use non-verbal behaviour to indicate hunger, happiness or the need for a nappy change. In addition, it can help others understand how we are feeling. As Darwin suggests, there are evolutionary advantages to nonverbal behaviour, especially in situations that pose a threat.

    What are the types of nonverbal Behaviour?

    Examples of non-verbal behaviour are eye contact, body language, facial expressions and personal space. 

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Which of these is not an example of non-verbal behaviour? 

    Does Darwin's theory propose that non-verbal behaviour is innate? 

    Does Yuki's (2007) study support Darwin's theory that non-verbal behaviour is innate? 

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