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To what Extent Does Non-verbal Communication Vary Across Culture Essay

We as humans are constantly conversing and communicating are views, opinions feelings and emotions. We send out expressions, which others use in their impression formation. The use of non-verbal communication is equally as important as verbal communication in are constant labours to supply others with are thoughts, opinions and emotions. ‘It was found that when verbal cues and non verbal cues of equivalent strength were combined, the non verbal cues accounted for 12. 3 times as much variance as verbal cues and produced 4. 3 times as much shift on relevant rating scales’ (Argyle, Alkema and Gilmore) 1971

It is important to recognize what is meant by ‘ Non verbal communication’. It can be argued and in this particular essay it will be given that non-verbal communication is any communication that is not linguistic or verbal. We correspond constantly with each other by expressions from the face, including microexpressions, which are fleeting facial expressions lasting less than a second. Furthermore we communicate through our bodies and our chosen use of voice quality and tone. Non-verbal communication can add attitudinal implications superior to verbal communication.

Some of the most common channels of non-verbal communication are through are facial expressions. Marcus Cicero believed that the ‘Face is the image of the soul’ and although one may argue that humans have the ability to be able to mask their true feelings with expressions of the opposite emotions, as studies and research have shown facial expression do play an important role in communication. We communicate through our amount of bodily contact, are type of eye contact if any, and our special relationships when we communicate.

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Although this is a common characteristic across all humans in cultures do people in different cultures vary in their use of non-verbal communication? Charles Darwin hypothesised that facial expressions play a salient role in communicating but also emotional expressions perform an instinctive function in non-verbal communication. Darwin argued that because these emotional expressions are innate in humans, they should therefore be recognised across different cultures through out the world. Numerous studies have been carried out by psychologists, which have concluded positively towards Darwin’s proposals.

Ekman (1987) carried out research within ten different Western and Non Western cultures, presenting them with a collection of photographs displaying both white men and women portraying six different emotions of white men and women displaying six different emotions. The results from the study show a high percentage of understanding and recognition in choosing the correct emotion to correspond with the picture. Darwin’s proposal that emotional expressions are universally recognised and understood, is within the perspective of introducing evolutionary theory.

He argues that the idea of different cultures through out the world having a common ability to understand emotions through facial expression must be a result of genetic programme into our species. Darwin’s Universality theory states that humans’ posses a set of universal facial expressions as a result of primitive adaptive patterns displayed by are evolutionary ancestors. However the outcome of these cross-cultural studies depends on the participant’s accessibility to western culture.

As Friedlund and Russel (1994) have argued the more exposure the participants have with Western culture through channels such as the media or through human contact the success rate of matching the correct emotion increases. However to be able to conduct a fair and effective study using people from cultures who have had no interaction or contact with the Western world would be hard as the dominance of Western culture as spread throughout into cultures across the world. It must also be clarified as to what are the basic human emotions and expressions.

How many of them can you include in your study, do you keep it simple by just distinguishing between pain and pleasure (Mowner 1960) or would it be more effective to expand the categories for example including surprise, anger, sadness, disgust, fear, and contempt (Ekman 1984) It must also be considered the variables under which the investigation takes place may change a facial expression and therefore a non-verbal communication for example the number of people in the room, the prior knowledge of the reaction being documented, looking at the image another time.

It could be concluded from a study conducted by Ekman and Friesan (1975) where a Japanese person and an American person were both shown a film portraying a gruesome scene, when they saw the film alone the pictures showed very similar reactions from the two individuals, but when they watched while being interviewed by another individual the expressions changed, the Japanese smiled more than the American. This maybe as a result of display rules, deeply entrenched conventions that may occur without consciousness that produce and effect facial expressions.

The study outlined above concerning the reaction of the American and the Japanese individual shows that it would be possible to conclude that by smiling the Japanese man would have wanted to convey politeness instead of revulsion so it would be constant with the interpersonal harmony in Japanese culture ( Markus and Kitayama 1994). The findings of this investigation therefore would support the belief that the expression of emotion is dependent on cultural differences and not necessarily a universal non-verbal language applicable across cultures. ‘The eyes have one language everywhere’ George Herbert (1593-1633)

Eye contact between people express emotion, belief and mood. The intensity of a gaze, the time of prolonged eye contact and the withdrawal of eye contact all provide us with information that helps us form impressions. Staring in many cultures would express dominance and aggression where in other cultures maybe seen as a form of flattery. It must be remembered that non-verbal communication must not be limited to facial expressions. The ways we hold our bodies and move are bodies comprise a wealth of opportunity in gathering expressions to make impressions.

The way one can walk can express a lot about a mood or feeling. A fast bouncy confident stride could express power confidence and strength; alternatively a slow, limp depressive walk could indicate low confidence sadness and despair. Non-verbally even the way you walk can provide others with a wealth of information to formulate impressions. The way in which people touch and interact with each other in a physical sense can determine much about levels of emotional arousal. For example if a person is calm, relaxed and content does he or she feel the need for physical contact?

On the other hand if a person is a highly charged and emotional then the need for physical maybe greater. However does the degree of this physical interaction and therefore non-verbal communication vary across cultures? It has been researched that in Collectivist countries such as Latin America, Asia, Africa are noted as being ‘interdependent’ cultures where they are more likely to endorse physical contact. In comparison the Individualist countries such as the USA, Canada and New Zealand are ‘dependent’ and are not so comfortable with physical contact.

Research carried out by Aronoff, Woike and Hyman (1992) proposes that impressions are made observing the geometric patterns of bodies during social interaction. The research concluded that arm positions in either an angular or diagonal pose would be threatening. However those showing more rounded arm positions conveyed a more friendly character. In conclusion it is important to determine what types of non-verbal communication vary across different cultures, a facial expression displaying sadness or happiness may have more probability of adhering to the universality thesis.

However looking at the differences between the Eastern (interdependent) and Western (Dependent) variances in self perception and social expectations will highlight the huge differences that occur between different cultures in terms of non-verbal communication. It maybe useful to point out that within the same cultures variances can occur in terms of non verbal communication and this could be as a result of self perception and social experiences and relationships, expectations placed on cultures and even within those cultures.

Non verbal communication does vary hugely among different cultures but also with in the same cultures, today it is near impossible to escape the effects and influence of the Western world, and it just as difficult to escape the expectations, likely roles that society places on people to play. We as human beings are constantly forming impressions and giving out expressions non verbal communication forms a large part of this and varies hugely on cultural differences but also at a more micro level at what immediate expressions people are aiming to portray.

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