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6.3: Movement and Vocal Cues

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    LEARNING OUTCOMES

    • Identify different types of body movement positions and their significance in the realm of nonverbal communication.
    • Distinguish between different aspects of vocalics and how they influence perception and production of talk.
    • Evaluate the impact of the four aspects of nonverbal communication in everyday interactions.

    MOVEMENT AND VOCAL CUES

    Classification III: Movement/Position

    The next category of nonverbal communication relates to body movement. There are certain aspects of your body that can be purposefully moved to communicate including your eyes, facial muscles, arms, and hands. In this Module, we will discuss each of these four aspects and how they can be used to communicate.

    Oculesics

    You probably have heard the saying “the eyes are the windows to the soul.” Your eyes can communicate just as much as your mouth does. Oculesics is the study of the use of our eyes to communicate. There are many ways that we use our eyes for communicative purposes and they can be culturally driven (Matsumoto & Hwang, 2013).

    First, there is pupil dilation. Your pupils are the hole in your eyes that expand or contract based on the amount of lighting and what you are viewing. When your pupils dilate they are enabling you to take in more information about something, usually in states of arousal (Critchley & Nagai, 2012). Conversely, when your pupils contract, they are trying to force your sight onto a particular thing, usually in a state of fear, anxiety, or sadness. Dilated pupils also make you more physically attractive to others (Hess, 1975). You may notice that in some sensual modeling photos that the model will have dilated pupils; these are known as “bedroom eyes.”

    You may also notice that some professional poker players wear sunglasses despite being in a dimly lit room. The sunglasses prevent other players from noticing pupil dilation, which may indicate that the cardholder has a good hand. In fact, poker players have a term for all nonverbal communication signals that may “leak” what kind of hand a specific player has; they are called “tells” (Caro, 2003).

    Pupil dilation is just one kind of “tell,” glancing can also convey meaning. A glance is the direction where pupils are facing. In basketball, players will use the “no-look” pass which involves facing in one direction yet strategically using their pupils to pass the ball in a different direction. The misdirection caused by the player facing one direction but passing in a different one tricks defenders because they assume that a player will always look where they are passing. In dating, “checking out” a person involves someone’s pupils focusing on different aspects of a person-of-interest’s physical appearance. If you get caught “checking out” someone, it can be awkward to say the least.

    Third, there is eye contact. Eye contact is the mutual exchange of glances between two people. When two people are madly in love, they will glance deeply into each others’ eyes and rarely break eye contact. Because of the romantic nature of a situation, you may notice that their pupils dilate. Pupil dilation is associated with sexual attraction (Rieger & Savin-Williams, 2012). On the opposite end of the spectrum, if two people are violently angry with each other; they may also exchange focused glances with their pupils contracted.

    There are some social situations where eye contact is expected to be maintained like when you are public speaking, testifying in court, or telling someone you love them. There is a cultural element to these norms. In some cultures, avoiding contact with a superior is a sign of respect. For example, in Japanese culture, students will bow their heads and face the floor while they are being scolded, as a sign of respect and deference to the scolder (Burgoon, Guerrero, & Floyd, 2010). In the US Marine Corp training, boot camp recruits are prohibited from making eye contact with their drill sergeant as they are being talked to and must face forward at all times.

    In fact, Goffman (1963) identified a social norm called, civil inattention. One thing that parents teach toddlers is to not “stare” at others. Imagine if you walked into a Starbuck’s coffee shop and all of the patrons watched you as you walk in, order your coffee, and sit down at a table. You would probably be a bit uncomfortable being stared at by everyone. The norm that we are supposed to “see” others but not “stare” at them is the idea of civil inattention.

    Overall, oculesics has three features; pupil dilation, glance, and eye contact. What we look at, how we look at it, and for how long we look can each have a layer of meaning to observers. Now that you are aware of the use of the eyes, you can see how they work in synchrony with the facial muscles for facial displays.

    Facial Displays

    In synchrony with our eyes, the movement of our facial muscles also express messages to others, known as facial displays. The study of facial displays is most commonly associated with the field of emotions research. People are most adept at reading each other’s emotions through each other’s facial displays (Scherer & Scherer, 2011). There are many theories of emotions that can be discussed, and we refer you to Unit 8 to learn more about them. We will focus on Paul Ekman’s research on emotional displays since it directly addresses the use of facial displays.

    Paul Ekman (2003) argues that there are seven basic universal emotions that have unique facial displays: fear, anger, sadness, happiness, contempt, surprise, and disgust. You can see pictures of each emotion here: https://www.paulekman.com/universal-emotions/. Ekman argues that the human brain is subconsciously wired to exhibit these displays regardless of cultural upbringing, making them “universal.” Not only did Ekman study these seven emotion displays, he also discovered the use of micro-expressions.

    Micro-expressions are fleeting facial displays that last for one second or less in response to a stimulus (Ekman, 2009). Suppose that you are told by your parents that they are cancelling the family vacation that you secretly dreaded going to. When the news comes, you might show a very brief flash of happiness (a micro-expression), before correcting that emotion to appear to be sad or disappointed (out of respect for your parents). Micro-expressions are usually only detectable in slow-motion replays of video recordings, though Ekman believes that the human eye can be trained to detect them in real-time a little bit more than 60% of the time (Ekman, 2009).

    The way we express our emotions is also governed by cultural norms known as display rules (Matsumoto, 1990). There are many ways we modify our facial displays when feeling certain emotions. For example, you might de-intensify the emotion that you feel. Perhaps you receive a phone call from an employer that you interviewed with that you earned the job. When you are told, you contain your excitement and thank them for the offer. After you get off the phone, you then begin to jump up and down with glee out of extra excitement. Now suppose the employer calls and tells you that you did not get the job. You might pretend to be understanding and accepting of the decision, but in fact, you are deeply hurt by it. In that case, you would be masking the emotion.

    There are also certain “looks” that we can give each other. A father might dart his eyes at his child who is misbehaving. Once the child gets the “evil stare,” the child stops acting up. A student who is confused might give a “puzzled” look to a teacher who is explaining a difficult concept, prompting the teacher to respond with another example.

    Some “looks” are not kinesic in nature, but are just natural structures of our faces. Some people have natural resting faces that make them appear happy or in deep thought. Other people might have “resting angry faces,” where they appear to be irritable in their resting position.

    In any case, face-to-face interaction naturally calls for people to look at each others’ faces. It would be quite uncomfortable to have an in-person conversation with someone who just stares at your chest or arms the entire time. The moves and looks of our face structure can be used to communicate specific stares and desires, as the “windows of our souls.”

    Kinesics

    Kinesics is the study of body movement to communicate, generally the body, head, and limbs (Harrigan, 2008). There are an estimated 700,000 different physical signs that can be produced by humans. There are 250,000 different facial expressions that can be made with the 30 or so muscles in the face (Birdwhistell, 1970). And there are 1,000 human postures possible (Burgoon, Guerrero, & Floyd, 2009). The two areas that we will focus on are the use of our arms and legs.

    When you talk, you might find yourself using your hands and arms to make points. The use of your arms to communicate are generally referred to as gestures. There are two types of gestures: speech-dependent and speech independent. Speech-independent gestures that have a direct verbal translation or dictionary definition. These are also known as emblems. Emblems usually consist of a word or two, or phrase. There will typically be a high agreement among members of a culture about a specific emblem means.

    Emblems can express greetings (waves), requests (come here), insults (middle finger), threats (pistol shot), physical states (rubbing stomach), thought processes (thinking while looking up), death (slashing throat), and emotional states (eyes wide open “beware”). Can you think of others?

    Speech-dependent gestures, known as illustrators, require having verbal context to have a clear meaning. Raising your palms up can have many different meanings, or no meaning at all. However, you might raise your palms up while telling a story about how you carried something heavy to your room. In this case, the palm raising is made sense by the accompanying story about lifting something. Speech-dependent gestures can accent, repeat, contradict, or complement what you are saying.

    Illustrators can be referent-related where they are used to describe the subject that you are speaking about. For example, you might say, “I caught a fish that was this big” While saying “this big,” you might create distance between your hands to show the approximate length of the fish. Illustrators can also speak to your relationship to the subject. If you are very certain about an answer to a question, you might say “yes” while moving your palms down to show the certainty, or if you are uncertain, you might put your hand to your face and look up while speaking to show that you are in deep thought.

    You might also use punctuation gestures to emphasize a particular word or phrase in a speech. For example, a politician might say, “No more wars” while pounding on the lectern on each word of that phrase. Lastly, you could use interactive gestures to help regulate the turns and flow of a conversation. As you talk to someone, you might forget what something is called, so you might snap your fingers or point at them to help you finish your sentence. You could also regulate a turn by putting your hand up while talking when someone tries to interject.

    In either case, both emblems and illustrators are important for daily communication. They provide shortcuts, regulation, and illustration to everyday language that is unspoken yet felt and seen.

    Haptics

    Haptics is the study of touch as communication. The importance of touch begins with our birth; the first senses that you developed in the womb was your sense of touch. Immediately after birth, you were probably held and caressed by your parents or parent-figures. Touch is also important for our physical well-being. Touch has been found to be associated with reducing stress levels by increasing oxytocin (Gallace & Spence, 2010; Regehr, Glancy, & Pitts, 2013). Literally, sometimes all you need is a hug when you are stressed. When you are very nervous, you might resort to using adaptors, which are self-soothing touching and movement behaviors that occur in response to high arousal or anxiety. These behaviors may include clicking your pen, shaking your legs, or rubbing your hands.

    There is some difficulty in studying touch naturally. Touching norms are culturally defined, with some cultures having low usage and others having higher usage. Moreover, touch that occurs between people low touch and immediate touch cultures is done privately; consider romantic couples and social norms against “PDA” (public displays of affection). Researchers must then rely on self-reports and experiments where confederates manipulate touch levels.

    We do know that there are five dimensions of touch: intensity, duration, location, frequency, and instrumentality (Burgoon, Guerroro, & Floyd, 2009). Intensity refers to how hard or soft a touch is. Compare squeezing someone as you hug them, versus lightly touching them as you embrace. Duration refers to how long the touching lasts. Compare a hug that lasts one second versus five seconds; how might the meaning of that hug change? Location is where the person is touched. When hugging, you might wrap you arms around the upper arms of the person, or you might wrap your arms around the lower waist of the person. The location of where your arms touch might vary based on the relationship you have with that person.

    Frequency describes the number of touches that occur. If you pat on the person’s back a few times while hugging, that might have some kind of special meaning versus just doing one pat as you embrace. Finally, instrumentality describes what one is touched with. Imagine being touched on the arm with a hand versus an elbows. Or imagine being touched on the arm with a ruler rather than a hand. The fact that you were touched with a ruler might mean something different to you.

    In addition to these five dimensions, Heslin and Alper (1983) developed a taxonomy of touch that range from less personal to most personal. The five types are functional/professional, social/polite, friendship/warmth, love/intimacy, and sexual arousal.

    Functional/professional touch relates to accomplishment of a specific task or service, that are usually impersonal in nature. When a baseball coach helps batters work on their swing, the coach might hold the batters’ arms to instruct them on how to best execute the swing. Or a firefighter might give a child a boost to safety, touching the children’s feet or waist area.

    Social/polite touch is contextualized by acts of politeness and social etiquette. A very common form of this in American culture is the handshake. We generally shake hands with strangers upon meeting them with no prior relational history. A greeting hug, high-five, or pat on the back can all be examples used in politeness situations.

    Friendship/warmth is characterized by one’s expression for friendship and liking towards someone. Examples can be extended hugging, holding hands, arms around the waist or shoulders, or sitting closely to each other. Friendship gestures can sometimes be mistaken for romantic ones, which can create uncertainty in some types of relationships.

    Love/intimacy touch expresses romantic attraction. Romantic relationships are often marked by physical touch milestones. Couples can probably recall the story of their “first kiss” or the first time they were physically intimate. The success of a date might be judged upon how much the physical intimacy “escalated,” did the date end with just a kiss? A hug? Or holding hands?

    Sexual arousal is the most intimate of all physical touch. Generally, what makes a touch sexual is the focus on areas of the body generally considered the most intimate and vulnerable: mouth, thighs, and genitals. Commonly ascribed sexual touching can include kissing, petting, and sexual intercourse.

    A key qualifier to this taxonomy of touch is cultural norms. In some cultures, two men holding hands is a sign of friendship, and kissing on the cheek is part of a typical greeting sequence. Context is the framework for making sense of any action.

    Classification IV: Vocal Cues

    You might have heard the saying, “It doesn’t matter what you say, but how you say it.” The fourth category of nonverbal communication is related to vocal cues, also known as vocalics (Burgoon et al., 2011). Vocalics focuses not on the words that we choose, but the manner in which we say the words using our vocal cords. Vocalics include the study of paralanguage which is the set of physical mechanisms that we use to produce sounds orally. These mechanisms include the throat, nasal cavities, tongue, lips, mouth, and jaw. The specific aspects of vocalics that we will focus on in this Module are: pitch, pace, volume, and disfluencies.

    Consider the sentence below:

    He told her about Mary.

    Take a moment repeating this sentence, putting emphasis one just on word each time. Try emphasizing “HE told her...” and then “He GAVE her...” and so forth. Depending on the paralanguage that you use, the meaning of this sentence can vary despite using the same words.

    How harmonically high or low you say something refers to pitch. The rate at which your vocal folds vibrate in your throat are responsible for the pitch of your voice. Low frequency vibrations make for a lower-pitched sound, while higher frequency vibrations make for a higher-pitched sound. If you end the sentence with Herbie on a high note (known as “uptalk), you might be perceived as sounding uncertain about the claim (Linneman, 2013). If you end it on a low pitch, it might sound like you are stating a fact confidently.

    Pace refers to how quickly you utter your words. According to the National Center for Voice and Speech (2019), the average rate of speech for American English speakers is about 150 words-per-minute (WPM). Some researchers believe that audience comprehension begins to decline once a speaker reaches 200 words per minute, especially for second-language hearers (Hayati, 2010). Often, beginning public speakers will talk fast out of nervousness or too much excitement. Their area of improvement then is learning to slow down to allow the audience to “digest” the words. In high-energy humorous speeches, the speaker might talk faster, whereas in more serious dramatic speeches, the speaker would slow down to build the drama.

    The use of pauses is a natural aspect of pacing. There are two types of pauses: grammatical and non-grammatical. Grammatical pauses are used to highlight something in a sentence or to build suspense. An example would be a host saying, “And the winner is....Corey,” where the ellipsis (...) is a pause to build suspense. Non-grammatical pauses are not planned and often occur when a speaker loses their train of thought or is self-correcting. In public speaking, speakers are trained to use pauses effectively, not to avoid them entirely.

    Both grammatical and non-grammatical pauses can either be filled or unfilled. Unfilled pauses have no sounds associated with them, they are pure silence. Filled pauses have some kind of noise associated with them, typically “uhh” and “umm.” The use of these non-grammatical sounds as pauses are known as disfluencies. Disfluencies can also include the repetitive use of a word during a pause, such as “like,” “so,” or “and.” Recondition yourself to not rely on disfluencies by simply taking a pause when you need a second to think of what you are about to say next.

    Volume refers to the loudness (prosody) of the language being spoken. You might have a friend who is a “loud talker,” where they can be heard from far distances having conversations with someone within social distance. On the opposite end of the spectrum, you may have a friend who is a “soft talker” who may be hard to hear in loud settings. In any case, we may have expectations for volume in certain settings. At a football game, loudness is encouraged by fellow fans. In a fine dining romantic restaurant, soft-talking is expected by fellow patrons.

    Impacts of Vocalics

    First, you may have learned the concept of vocal variety in a public speaking class. This refers to the variation in the use of pitch, pace, and volume in a speech. If you have heard a monotone lecturer, there is no variety in their speech (everything they say is single-toned). With some training, that speaker can become polytoned, which will increase your engagement due to the novelty that such variety brings. “Variety is the spice of life” is a saying that holds true with vocalics.

    Second, vocalics are critical for identifying a person’s emotions. In fact, Juslin and Lauuka (2003) found that if you ask people from five different cultures to determine the emotion that someone is experiencing through vocalics alone, they correctly name the emotion 90% accurately. You may have had a friend who said that they were “fine” when you asked them, but the tone of their voice said otherwise.

    Finally, vocalics can impact one’s perceived dominance in a situation. In military basic training, the drill sergeants will constantly yell at the recruits to humble them into conforming with the military culture. If they asked the recruits softly and nicely, they may not experience the same kind of obedience. Indeed, lab experiments suggest that people who are more expressive and speak louder are perceived as more dominant (Mast & Hall, 2017). In phone skills training, you would learn to “smile” through the telephone by using a certain tone and pitch when saying “hello” (Davis, 1999). Friendliness and dominance can both be conveyed through vocalics.

    Summary

    Overall, the four aspects of nonverbal communication complete our understanding of social interaction. So much of social life is communicated nonverbally, whether it is a face of discomfort when someone sits too close or knowing when to end a conversation when your partner begins leaning forward in their chair as if they are getting up. We also communicate nonverbally through text message and mediated communication. To study communication is not to merely study “talking,” but it is to study holistic performances using all the tools on our persons and immediate environment.

    LEARNING ACTIVITIES

    1. Vocalics Exercise

    Have your students read the sentence aloud as a class:

    Jerry told her about Mary.

    Take a moment repeating this sentence, putting emphasis one just on word each time. Try emphasizing “JERRY told her...” and then “Jerry TOLD her about...” and so forth. Then ask your students how switching the emphasis of each word changes their interpretation of the meaning of the sentence.

    2. Tonality Exercise

    Have your students say to a partner the following phrases in three different tones; sarcastic, genuine, and scripted.

    “I like going to class.”

    “I enjoy exercising every day.”

    After the students say these phrases to their partners, then have volunteers share their voices. As a discussion, ask them what aspects of vocalics make each tone distinct.

    3. Accent Archive

    George Mason University has collected accents from across the world and put them on a map for you to visit. Pick a region on the United Staes map, and play some of the accents to your students (without them seeing the map). Ask them where they think this person is from and why. Also ask them what their impression is of each speaker. It is at the following website: http://accent.gmu.edu/browse_maps/namerica.php

    REFERENCES

    Birdwhistell, R. L. (1970). Kinesics and context: Essays on body motion communication. University of Pennsylvania Press.

    Burgoon, J. K., Guerrero, L. K., & Floyd, F. (2009). Nonverbal communication (1st ed.). Routledge.

    Burgoon, J. K., Guerrero, L. K., & Manusov, V. (2011). Nonverbal signals. In M. L. Knapp & J. Daly (Eds.), Handbook of interpersonal communication (pp. 239–280). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

    Caro, M. (2003). Caro’s book of poker tells: The psychology and body language of poker. Las Vegas, NV: Cardoza Publishing.

    Critchley, H. D., & Nagai, Y. (2012). How emotions are shaped by bodily states. Emotion Review, 4(2), 163–168. https://doi.org/10.1177/1754073911430132

    Davis, J. (1999). Beyond “hello:” A practical guide for excellent telephone communication and quality customer service. Now hear this, Inc.

    Ekman, P. (2003). Emotions revealed: Recognizing faces and feelings to improve communication and emotional life. St. Martin’s Griffin.

    Ekman, P. (2009). Telling lies: Clues to deceit in the marketplace, politics, and marriage. WW Norton & Company.

    Gallace, A., & Spence, C. (2010). The science of interpersonal touch: An overview. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 34(2), 246–259. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2008.10.004

    Goffman, E. (1959). The presentation of self in everyday life. Anchor Books.

    Goffman, E. (1963). Behavior in public places: Notes on the social organization of gatherings. Macmillan Publishing Co.

    Harrigan, J. (2008). Proxemics, kinesics, and gaze. In J. Harrigan, R. Rosenthal, & K. R. Scherer (Eds.), The new handbook of methods in nonverbal behavior research (pp. 137–198). Oxford University Press.

    Hayati, A. (2010). The Effect of Speech Rate on Listening Comprehension of EFL learners. Creative Education, 01(02), 107–114. https://doi.org/10.4236/ce.2010.12016

    Heslin, R, & Alper, R. (1983). Touch: A bonding gesture. In J. M. Wiemann & R. P. Harrison (Eds.), Nonverbal interaction (pp. 47–75). Sage.

    Hess, E. H. (1975). The role of pupil size in communication. Scientific American, 233, 110–119.

    Juslin, P. N., & Laukka, P. (2003). Communication of emotions in vocal expression and musical performance: Different channels, same code? Psychological Bulletin, 12, 770–814.

    Linneman, T. (2013). Gender in jeopardy! Intonation variation on a television game show. Gender & Society, 27, 82–105.

    Mast, M. S., & Hall, J. A. (2017). The vertical dimension of social signaling. In Judee K Burgoon, N. Magnenat-Thalmann, M. Pantic, & A. Vinciarelli (Eds.), Social signal processing (pp. 34–46). Cambridge University Press.

    Matsumoto, D. (1990). Cultural similarities and differences in display rules. Motivation and Emotion, 14, 195–214. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00995569

    Matsumoto, D., & Hwang, H. C. (2013). Culture and nonverbal communication. In J. A. Hall & M. L. Knapp (Eds.), Nonverbal communication: 697-728. DeGruyter.

    National Center for Voice and Speech. (2019). Voice qualities. Retrieved December 20, 2019, from Tutorials—Voice Production website: http://www.ncvs.org/ncvs/tutorials/voiceprod/tutorial/quality.html

    Regehr, C., Glancy, D., & Pitts, A. (2013). Interventions to reduce stress in university students: A review and meta-analysis. Journal of Affective Disorders, 148(1), 1–11.

    Rieger, G., & Savin-Williams, R. C. (2012). The eyes have it: Sex and sexual orientation differences in pupil dilation patterns. PLoS ONE, 7(8), e40256. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0040256

    Scherer, K.R. & Sherer, U. (2011). Assessing the ability to recognize facial and vocal expressions of emotion: Construction and validation of the emotion recognition index. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 35(4), 305–326.

    GLOSSARY

    Display rules: Social norms that influence how and when people express their emotions.

    Emblems: Speech-independent gestures that have a direct verbal translation or dictionary definition.

    Facial displays: The study of facial muscular movement to exhibit human emotions.

    Grammatical pauses: Pauses used for dramatic or intentional effect.

    Haptics: The study of how interpersonal touch is used to communicate.

    Illustrators: Speech-dependent gestures that require having verbal context to have a clear meaning.

    Kinesics: The study arm, hand, and leg movement to convey meaning.

    Micro-expressions: Fleeting facial displays that last for one second or less in response to a stimulus.

    Nongrammatical pauses: Pauses that are unplanned and do not serve an intended purpose for conveying meaning.

    Oculesics: The study of eye movement for social function.

    Pace: The rate at which words are spoken in a particular utterance.

    Pitch: How harmonically high or low something is said.

    Vocal variety: The use of variation of pitch, volume, and pacing for dramatic effect.

    Vocalics: The study of vocal aspects of communicating outside of speech content.

    Volume: The loudness at which an utterance is spoken.

    MEDIA

    1. Fun Tour of American Accents: To exemplify vocalics, watch this professional do American accents across the country. She explains how each is done. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4NriDTxseog

    2. Lie To Me: Here is the opening scene of the famous show: Lie To Me. Notice how Dr. Lightman reads nonverbal expressions. Is it accurate? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bWyhsqh_e9s

    3. Micro-expressions: To get a better understanding of what microexpressions look like and how to identify them watch Paul Ekman’s brief tutorial. Can you tell the difference between micro-expressions and traditional macro-expressions?https://www.paulekman.com/resources/micro-expressions/


    This page titled 6.3: Movement and Vocal Cues is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Daniel Usera & contributing authors.

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