In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Nonverbal Cues and Communication

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Applications
  • Research Methods

Psychology Nonverbal Cues and Communication
Judee Burgoon, Laura Guerrero
  • LAST REVIEWED: 18 October 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 November 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0041


Long before humans were communicating verbally—that is, through words—they were communicating nonverbally, through gestures, sounds, distancing, touch, and all the additional means of conveying messages other than words themselves. These nonverbal means of expression and interpretation are typically analyzed according to the separate coding systems (e.g., kinesics, vocalics, proxemics) that convey nonverbal messages, through the functions that nonverbal cues accomplish in combination (e.g., express emotions, manage conversations), or through their role in specific applications and contexts (e.g., doctor–patient interaction, social media, conflict management). Also critical to analyzing nonverbal cues are the evolutionary, biological, social, and cultural influences that shape how nonverbal cues are displayed and understood. Research in the late 20th and early 21st centuries has determined that for most communication functions, nonverbal cues carry more weight than verbal cues in conveying meaning. Understanding human communication, then, requires a deep understanding of the place of nonverbal cues in the sending and receiving of messages.

General Overviews

Several disciplines have offered perspectives on nonverbal communication, central among them psychology, communication, anthropology, and linguistics. Although nonverbal cues are the subject of numerous popular (trade press) books and websites, the works cited here are confined to reputable materials authored by scholars with recognized expertise in nonverbal communication. Included are four textbooks (Andersen 2008; Burgoon, et al. 2010; Knapp and Hall 2010, Remland 2009) and one handbook (Manusov and Patterson 2006) with different approaches and pitched at different levels. These are naturally the most comprehensive works. They vary in their degree of coverage of the various codes (forms) and functions (purposes) of nonverbal communication as well as the factors, such as biology, culture, and gender, that affect nonverbal communication. Burgoon, et al. 2010 is the third edition of the first textbook to examine nonverbal communication from a functional (i.e., the communicative purposes of nonverbal communication) perspective. Also included are the handbook chapters Burgoon, et al. 2011, which gives an easily digestible overview of current theories and programs of research, and DePaulo and Friedman 1998, which examines both the decoding and expressive sides of nonverbal behavior from a social psychological perspective. Guerrero and Hecht 2008 offers an extensive collection of excerpted classic and new writings on the full gamut of nonverbal communication topics. The remaining entry, Mehrabian 2007, is one of the first scholarly books to provide a coherent model of the encoding and decoding of silent messages. More narrow in scope, Mehrabian’s three-dimensional approach to nonverbal messages remains influential in the early 21st century.

  • Andersen, Peter A. 2008. Nonverbal communication: Forms and functions. 2d ed. Long Grove, IL: Waveland.

    This introductory textbook covers codes of nonverbal communication (kinesics, physical appearance, haptics, proxemics) and ones designated as contextual codes (vocalic, environmental, and olfactic cues). Other chapters demonstrate how nonverbal communication is tied to affective state and is used to influence and deceive others. The fundamental forces of sex and culture are also introduced.

  • Burgoon, Judee K., Laura K. Guerrero, and Kory Floyd. 2010. Nonverbal communication. 3d ed. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

    This text defines nonverbal communication, examines biological and cultural forces, and describes seven codes (appearance, kinesics, vocalics, haptics, proxemics, artifacts, chronemics). The remainder looks at the codes interdependently as they accomplish these functions: social cognition and impression formation, identity management, emotional expression, relational communication of intimacy, communication of dominance and power, conversational management, and deception.

  • Burgoon, Judee K., Laura K. Guerrero, and Valerie Manusov. 2011. Nonverbal signals. In The SAGE handbook of interpersonal communication. 4th ed. Edited by Mark L. Knapp and John A. Daly, 239–280. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    This chapter provides an overview of research on nonverbal communication in interpersonal contexts, summarizing the research as it relates to identification and identity management, impression formation, emotional expression and management, relational communication and relationship management (including intimacy, dominance, and courtship cues), and deception. Emphasis is on early-21st-century research. Contains a substantial bibliography on theory and research in the interpersonal context.

  • DePaulo, Bella M., and Howard S. Friedman. 1998. Nonverbal communication. In The handbook of social psychology. Vol. 2. 4th ed. Edited by Daniel T. Gilbert, Susan T. Fiske, and Gardner Lindzey, 3–40. Boston: McGraw-Hill.

    This highly comprehensive handbook chapter considers both the expression and perception of nonverbal behavior, studying it in the context of self-perception, self-presentation, interpersonal expectations, conversational dynamics, social influence, and deception.

  • Guerrero, Laura K., and Michael L. Hecht, eds. 2008. The nonverbal communication reader: Classic and contemporary readings. 3d ed. Long Grove, IL: Waveland.

    This edited volume provides classic readings and more recent readings some written expressly for this collection and others excerpted from published articles. Included are readings covering definitions, research methods, and nonverbal skills. The second section covers various nonverbal codes (e.g., physical appearance, touch, time). The third section focuses on emotion, power, and deception. The book ends with popular communication theories on adaptation.

  • Knapp, Mark L., and Judith A. Hall. 2010. Nonverbal communication in human interaction. 7th ed. Boston: Wadsworth Cengage.

    Coauthored by two pioneering nonverbal scholars, this popular textbook offers a comprehensive, scientific, and highly readable approach. Chapters treat biological roots; nonverbal skills; effects of the environment, space, and territory; communicator physical characteristics; and communicator behavior, with separate chapters devoted to eyes, face, gesture/posture, appearance, touch, and voice. Specific nonverbal contexts are discussed, to a lesser extent.

  • Manusov, Valerie, and Miles L. Patterson, eds. 2006. The SAGE handbook of nonverbal communication. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    This graduate-level handbook, edited by two leading nonverbal scholars, has five parts, beginning with foundational historical, theoretical and methodological material, and the relationship to verbal communication. Part 2 focuses on biological, cultural, personality, gender, age, and media factors. Part 3 covers seven functions. Part 4 studies contexts (e.g., instruction, close relationships, groups, computer-mediated communication). Part 5 recaps basic issues and forecasts the future.

  • Mehrabian, Albert. 2007. Nonverbal communication. Piscataway, NJ: Aldine.

    This novel approach to the semantic space for expressing and understanding nonverbal communication focuses on three dimensions: positivity; potency, or status; and responsiveness of “silent messages.” Chapters deal with implicit nonverbal messages, especially emotion-laden and relationship-based ones and verbal ones that reflect “verbal immediacy.” Appendixes present a coding system and personality measures relevant to expression of affect.

  • Remland, Martin S. 2009. Nonverbal communication in everyday life. 3d ed. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

    This introductory volume combines some theory with numerous practical applications. Following a foundations section are chapters on codes, including gestures, facial expressions, eye behavior, physical appearance, touch, voice, and spatial relations in face-to-face interactions. An applications section explores workplace communication, close relationships, and public speaking.

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