Social interaction involves numerous forms of non-verbal communication like the exchange of information and meaning through facial expressions, gestures, eye contact, movements of the body and written messages. Non-verbal communication eliminates the use of language while interacting. The non-verbal communication give cues, additional information and meaning over verbal communication. It has been estimated that around 70-80% communication is non-verbal in nature.
Non-verbal communication was first studied by Charles Darwin in 1872 in his book “The Expressions of the Emotions in Men and Animals”. He noticed the way animals communicated and interacted among themselves and realized that they also connect by gestures and expressions. This is how the first non-verbal communication systems were studied and its importance was realized.
Expression of Emotions and Gestures
One of the major aspects of non-verbal communication is the facial expression of emotions. Norbert Elias, a German sociologist argued that studying the face shows how human beings like all other animals have evolved over a period of time. But this biological basis was wrapped with cultural features in the process of social development. When the human face is compared with that of an ape it is found that the latter is furry and quite rigid in structure allowing limited movement. The human face, in contrast is very flexible and able to produce a wide variety of postures. Elias observes that the apes make extensive use of the whole body but human beings can communicate a variety of emotions just through facial expressions. For Elias, that’s why the natural and social are always intertwined.
Paul Ekman, a psychologist and his colleagues developed a system called Facial Action Coding System (FACS) for describing all the visually discernible facial movements that give rise to particular expressions. Such a system enabled greater awareness and sensitivity to subtle facial expressions.
Darwin claimed that the basic modes of emotional expression are same in all human beings. This has been disputed by some but Ekman’s research among people from widely different cultural backgrounds seems to confirm this claim. Ekman and Friesen conducted a study on an isolated community in New Guinea who had no contact with outsiders previously. But when the people were showed pictures of facial expressions expression emotions of happiness, sadness, anger, disgust, fear, surprise, they were able to identify those emotions. Ekman also suggested from his studies that the facial expression of emotion and its interpretation is innate in human beings. He also opined that his evidence doesn’t conclusively demonstrate this idea and it could be the widely shared cultural learning experiences involved but other researches do support his conclusions.
The Importance of Non-Verbal Communication
Facial expression and the way it is expressed indicates a person’s attitude which plays an important role in explaining the inner meaning of the messages which are interpreted. In case of a written message, the neatness, language and the appearance of the envelope reflects on the writer’s tests, choice, level of education, etc. In some cases, non-verbal cues express the exact messages more accurately and appropriately than any other means of communication. For example, the use of red, yellow and green lights for traffic control in roads.