Communication and Body Language
When people communicate, they hardly notice their body languages. They do not realize that their body language is just as powerful as their words. Communication can be affected by the body language. Through body language, two people can communicate without ever saying anything. Through body language people can predict which certain characteristic a person posses. These characteristics can be masculine, feminine, or androgyny. Body language includes body hand gestures and other non verbal methods of communication.
Nonverbal communication can be affected not only based on society’s view of a particular sex and what its characteristics should be, but also one’s cultural beliefs. Body language is very important to study and understand because it varies culturally, and can be easily misinterpreted. By understand that there are certain body language that might mean something to one person, and something else to another person, we allow ourselves to become more open minded. Body language is an important study because society has come to attach it to a certain sex.
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Therefore by studying the body language we begin to understand that no particular body language should be attached to any sex. Men and women differ in the way they use body language during communication. Facial expression, hand gestures, eyes movements, are all part of the body language expressed during a communication. Women of today are perceived to use more body language during communication than men. Men on the other hand are perceived to be louder and use less body language during a conversation; of course this is just a perception. We all participate in nonverbal communication every day.
Sometimes we are so accustomed to it that we do not realize when we’re using it. Society is a major contributor to how much a man and a woman uses body language during a conversation (Ambady, Corner, & Hallahan, 1999). 1 Today’s society demands that a man be masculine and a woman be feminine. Through observation, both sexes are able to learn how to interact during a conversation. Society uses nonverbal communication as a means of distinguishing between men and women. For many years, society has played a role in distinguishing between men and women.
For years, society saw to it that men were the breadwinners and women were the housewives. Society succeeded for a while in its attempt to make sure that the men were in leadership positions. It played a role in determining how a man behaved, dressed, acted and looked like. Men were to not show any emotion during a conversation. They were to maintain distance when talking to same sex friends. Women were to show emotions and were to communicate within close distance from each other. There have been many research conducted in the attempt to differentiates the biological effect and societal effect on nonverbal communication.
Many of these studies concluded that society was a major contributor to which sex is more likely to use nonverbal communication. A person’s class within a society also determines how likely he or she will use nonverbal communication. Upper classes people are taught to conduct themselves in a certain way from adolescent. This training is also part of the expectation that is governed by society. According to Birdwhistell (1970), men and women use body language in the manner they do, because they need to be recognized in society as male or female. Research conducted between 1973 and 1984, disagreed on who is more likely to initiate touch.
One research concluded that men were more likely to touch women than the opposite. According to this research, men use touch as a means of expressing their dominance over women. The contradicting research argued that men are not the ones who initiate touch; women did (Stier & Hall, 1984). According to their findings, women feel awkward when they are touched by a man because society has taught them to perceive a man’s touch as a show of dominance (Briton & Hall, 1995). 2 Culture is a major contributor to nonverbal communication, how often, and who uses it.
Every culture is different in its perception of what characteristics a male and a female should posses. While these cultures may exist within one society, they vary in their method of communication. According to Hall, 1990, Whites are more likely to use verbal communication than non whites. Many people from different culture are somewhat ethnocentric. Ethnocentricity therefore makes it difficult to respect each other’s method of communication. Nonverbal communications are more likely to be misread by someone outside of that particular culture, than verbal communication.
However, within the same culture, non verbal communication can still be misunderstood. Many people for example in India are allowed to greet the opposite sex with a kiss on the cheek; whereas, in a place like Japan, this type of behavior is forbidden not only between the opposite sexes, but among the same sex. Instead of kissing each other on the cheek, their culture requires them to bow. In places like Italy, both genders are allowed to kiss each other on the cheek, but in places like the Middle East, a man is forbidden from kissing a woman on the cheek.
The men are only allowed to kiss members of the same sex on the cheek as means of greeting. Friendship among the same gender also differs from one culture to another. In Middle Eastern, Asians, and many other countries, two men holding hands and walking down the street does not symbolize homosexuality. Rather, it is interpreted by the people within that culture as a sign of friendship. Symbolization of a body movement differs from one culture to another. During a conversation, a shrug can be interpreted as a method of expressing one’s unconcern on a particular matter; this type of interpretation is common in Western cultures.
In other cultures, a shrug might be understood as an acknowledgment of one’s lack of knowledge on a particular subject. Cultures also define what eye contact means. In certain cultures, it is seen as disrespectful to look an adult in the eyes. In other cultures, eye contact is seen as respectful and shows confidence. This type of confidence that society like ours, attaches to eye contact affects the way men communicate. Part of the perception of being a man is the ability to show confidence in one’s self. Therefore it is encouraged that eye contact is made during a conversation.
For example, during a preparation for a job interview, it is emphasized that the applicant both male and female, make and maintain eye contact as a mean of showing self-confidence (Carrico, Cunningham, Hewlweg-Larsen, & Pergram, 2004). 3 Facial expression and movement of the head are also believed to differ among the sexes. Women are more likely to engage in facial expression (Kramer, 1977). The study conducted, concluded that women were more likely to smile than men. The study also found that women were more likely to move their hands freely than men during conversations.
The same study concluded that men were more aggressive and spoke less. Through studies that were conducted, it was found that when engaged in same sex communication, women were better able to understand the body language due to the closeness they have with one another (Hall, 1984). Nonverbal communication can also be understood and expressed among men. A study that was conducted during the late 1900’s suggested that men in certain situations that are of low status tend to smile more often as a sign of respect and submissiveness. This type of behavior can also be observed aomong both sexes within the different ranks.
During one study, a group of college students were divided in two groups. Among these two groups were students and faculty members. The behavior that was observed was that of personal space violation on behalf of the faculty members. They were in authoritative position to speak and interrupt as they pleased; this went for both genders. The male faculty members, being in an authoritative position, smiled less. Another study was done at a college to determine who was more likely to nod their head in the classroom between both sexes while listening and/or during conversations.
In this study, a little more than half were women averaging 20yrs of age, and predominantly White. The participants were observed for who nodded more during conversation between one another (both sexes), and a faculty members of both sexes as well. The result concluded that faculty members of both sexes, received about the same nod from the students of both sexes. The students of both sexes however, nodded more to the faulty members than they did to one another. When speaking to fellow students, females nodded more than the male when it was a male speaker. The male students on the other hand, did not nod as much for either gender.
The research concluded that while it cannot say for sure the exact intent behind the head nodding, it can be certain that gender and status played a role during the observation (Carli, Wellesley, LaFleur, & Loeber, 1995). 4 Research has shown that while female speakers are not effective with male audience when they try to use dominant nonverbal cues, they can be as influential using other nonverbal cues. Men tend to use dominant cues such as lowering their eyebrow, not smiling, speaking loudly, and other nonverbal language while speaking to get the attention of their audience.
Women however, get a different reaction when they attempt to use such nonverbal body language. Moreover, they can be just as influential by using a different type of body language during communication. Nonverbal languages such as smiling, leaning forward towards their audience, and just being less intrusive, can all be a good method of getting the same attention and the respect that men get. The type of body language that a person uses in many occasions, is usually used to judge his/her sexual preference, and often times can be misleading (Epstein, 1986). Both sexes can posses both masculine and feminine characteristics. Is it safe to rush to judgment by perception alone? Gay men and lesbian women are perceived to be more accurate in their ability to identify other gays and lesbians. This ability is important to them because of possible outcome of being inaccurate. If a homosexual person approaches a heterosexual person for courtship, this might result to violence. Therefore, the ability to detect sexual orientations is important not only to avoid the trouble, but to avoid the humiliation as well.
Heterosexuals on the other hand, do not really feel the need to be accurate when approaching members of the opposite sex, because most of them can be perceived to be heterosexuals. A study was conducted at an undisclosed University in an attempt determine people’s ability to determine sexual orientation based on their observation. In this study, half the women were lesbian and the other half were heterosexual. There were seven men that were heterosexual and eight men that were homosexual. Participants of both sexes were from the age of 21-31 years.
All participants were unaware of the objective behind the research. They were asked to fill out a survey with 19 different questions. The questions were random and included questions such as the amount of alcohol they tend to consume, and within the survey was the question measuring sexual tendencies. From a 1-7 point scale of not at all to very much, all but one rated themselves at the far end of the scale. Among the men, there were 6 at the lowest end of the scale, 8 men at the highest end of the scale, and 1 was close to the lowest end.
Among the women, there 3 at the lowest end of the scale, 2 second to the lowest end, 1 was a little above the middle, 2 were close to the highest end, and 2 were at the highest end of the scale. The subjects were then interviewed and asked to talk for a minute. Upon completion, they were compensated and informed of what was going on. They were given the choice to opt out or remain as part of the research. Two participants decided to opt out, and the rest were used as part of the research. The interview part of the research was the most important part.
The one minute interviews were cut down to 10 seconds video clips for observation. The audio was removed from each video clip so that the focus for observation would be on the body language used during the interviews. There were two different tapes that had the 25 clips. The first tape had the clips arranged in a random order and the second tape was reversed. There was also a one second silent clip and eight still photos. The judges included ninety-six undergraduate students. Among the students were 24 heterosexual women and 24 homosexual women. The male judges ere made up of 24 heterosexual men and 24 homosexual men. Eight people out of each sexual preference were placed in one group to observe the video clips and still photos. They were to rate from a scale of 1-7, how sure they were that person being observed was homosexual or heterosexual. The homosexuals were able to identify more accurately those subjects of homosexual orientation. The 10 seconds clip was the most effective in determining sexual preference. Judges were able to identify correctly 70% of the targets. The one second clip identified 60% of the targets, and the still photos identified 55% of the target.
The same result suggested that lesbian women were more accurate in their prediction of other lesbian women than the gay men were of other gay men. The overall conclusion of the research was that through observation of nonverbal body language, one’s sexual orientation can be determined (Mckay, Singh, & Singh, 1998). 6 Could it be possible that nonverbal body language is something that starts from adolescence, or could it be something that we learn as we start to grow up? Is it possible that our interpretation of nonverbal expressions is influenced solely on the sex of the person?
To determine this Condry and Condry conducted a research in which they examined infants for emotional expression between the sexes. These infants were videotaped and participants in the research were divided into two groups. Half of the group were told that a particular infant was a male, and the other half were told that the same infant was a female; while in fact it was really a male. After viewing the boy’s reaction to jack in the box, the participants who were told that the infant was a girl interpreted the reaction of the boy as fearful and less angry.
The participants that were told that it was a boy interpreted the reaction differently. Social role can be part of the reason why certain nonverbal expressions has come to be attached to certain sexes. Anger, which is usually attached to men, is usually interpreted as an important part of being a man. Anger is seen as important because men are expected to be active in roles that require aggression and authority. To confirm this, a study was conducted by Ashby Plant et al. (2004), in which they compared men and women with different social roles, their facial expressions, and the interpretation of their facial expressions by the participants.
For this study, 69 undergrads were used to view different poses by both sexes. Most of the participants that were used in this study were women. In the first part of the study, there were 40 undergrads who participated. They were to observe several photographs and determine whether or not the person in the photograph was a male or female. The photograph was of a man and a woman making similar expression which was then merged together through a computer technology to come up with one face. Feminine and masculine characteristics were then added to the face.
Four different photos were produced by adding feminine or masculine characteristics. Overall, there results were as expected. Participants fell into the stereotypical expression of men and women (Johnson, Gill, Reichman, & Tassinary, 2007). The perception of nonverbal language is carried on even when viewing animations. A study was conducted to see how gender orientation can be determined by a person body movement. In this study, 25 animations were viewed by the participants. They were to analyze the way the animations moved their body while walking, and determine the sexual orientation of the animations.
The conclusion was as they had predicted. Animations that were male were labeled as homosexuals when they swayed their hips rather than swagger their shoulders. The females were also labeled as homosexual when they swaggered their shoulders while walking, instead of swaying their hips (Plant, Kling, & Smith, 2004). Gender and sex differ in their meaning. Sex is something that a person is born with. Gender can be defined by a person’s physical appearance. However, the difference is that gender can include modification that a person makes in regards to his/her sex later on in life.
Body language can be defined as any nonverbal body movement that can draw any particular perception from people. This includes, facial expressions, hand gestures, upper and lower body movement during a conversation or any other activity. Masculine non verbal expressions have different meanings to different people. Some characteristics of masculinity include aggressive body gestures. For example, many men think that using strong hand gesture is a masculine characteristic. Stern or angry facial expression is also interpreted by some, as a masculine characteristic.
Men that are masculine are not supposed to be as facially expressive. Loudness is another characteristic of masculinity. Men are expected to be loud when communicating as mentioned earlier, because it is seen by society as a sign of masculinity. Femininity is a characteristic that is often attributed to the female. Femininity is seen as the opposite of masculinity. People, who possess feminine characteristics, are expected to speak with a lower tone of voice. Smiling and physical contact are often attributed to the female sex.
The method that was used in this paper includes a survey that was conducted and journal articles that were reviewed to see what others had to say about the use of nonverbal body language and sex/gender. The survey was posted online and was to determine certain specific characteristics that both male and female possessed. Masculinity, femininity, androgyny, ethnicity, facial expressions, hand gestures, were all key points in the survey. The survey was posted and was left open for weeks. The survey was made up of multiple choice questions which address the key points that were mentioned above.
The multiple choice answers were arranged from strongly agree to strongly disagree. The age of the participants was unclear. The participants’ identities were unknown. There were a total of 9 participants in the survey. Three out the participants interestingly did not disclose their sex. Therefore only 6 participants disclosed what their sex was. The journal articles that were used provided insightful thoughts on the different body languages and how they interpreted within our society. The articles were reviewed for several weeks to thoroughly analyze them.
The goal of this method of research was to compare the findings of studies conducted that were mentioned in the articles, to the survey that was posted online. By comparison, it will be easier to see if there is a correlation between the findings on nonverbal body language and sex. The limitation of the online survey method that was used was that further background information was not accessible. It may have been easier to understand the responses if there were further information that was made available by the participants. The survey that was posted online was left online for several weeks to generate responses.
A total of 9 people participated in the study. As mentioned earlier, 3 out of the 9 participants did not mention their gender. Fifty percent of the participants that answered the question about their gender were male and the other fifty percent were female. There were four different ethnicities, which included African American, White American, Hispanic, or other ethnicity. Out of the total nine participants in the study, 44. 4% responded to being African American. There were 22. 2% of White Americans in the survey. Hispanics made up 22. 2% of the participants in the survey.
The other ethnicities which were equally relevant to the study made up 11. 1% of the participants. A total of 55. 6% of the participants strongly agreed that they were feminine. 33. 3% of participant agreed that they had feminine characteristics. The remaining 11. 1 percent strongly disagreed to having feminine characteristics. When asked about masculinity, 11. 1% strongly agreed that they possessed this characteristic. A total of 55. 6% of the participants simply agreed that they have masculine characteristic. 11. 1% of the participants disagreed on having masculine characteristics. Of the participants, 22. % strongly disagreed to having masculine characteristics. When asked about androgyny, 11. 1% strongly agreed that they possessed this characteristic. 55. 6% of the participants simply agreed that they possessed androgynous characteristics. Of the participants, 33. 3% strongly disagreed to possessing this characteristic. When asked if they were facially expressive, 85. 7% strongly agreed. Of the same participants, 14. 3% simply agreed. Nobody disagreed or strongly disagreed to the question, nor were there any undecided. When asked if they generally spoke with their hands to their sides, 22. 2% strongly agreed, 11. % simply agreed, 44. 4% disagreed, and 22. 2% strongly disagreed. When asked if they used a lot of gestures when speaking, 11. 1% strongly agreed, 55. 6% simply agreed, and 33. 3% disagreed. There were no one who strongly neither disagreed to this question, nor were there any undecided. When asked if they were facially unexpressive during interactions with others, 11. 1% strongly agreed, 11. 1% simply agreed, 11. 1% were undecided, 33. 3% disagreed, and 33. 3% strongly disagreed. The result of the survey reinforces the fact that gender plays a major role in the use of nonverbal body language.
Out of the 9 people that participated in the survey, more than half agreed that they possessed both masculine and feminine characteristics. Most researchers do not mention both sexes possessing both characteristics, but the truth of the matter is that they both do. Men who do not really want to be judged by their friend, often times exercise discretion when using non- verbal body language. Society has attached the use of hand gestures and facial expression as a feminine quality. Therefore, any man that possesses these characteristics is forced to subdue it, so that he would not be judged.
Often times the person would feel intimidated by his male friends to use non verbal body language that is more familiar to the male figure. The survey that was posted online showed 85. 7% of the participants strongly agreed to the use of facial expressions when communicating. This is backed up by many researches that suggest that both male and female use facial expression when communicating. The type of expressions society demands from both male and female does vary. As many researches would suggest men tend to use stern or angry expressions as a means of reinforcing their masculinity.
The media is a major contributor to this stereotype of men. When you go to the movies to see an action film, the male role models are often perceived with the same stereotype. For the man to be seen as a man, he has to possess certain non verbal body language. The way he walks, his hand gestures, his facial expression, all play into the stereotype. The media has been active in reinforcing what society demands for years. The female is also portrayed with the same physical characteristics. For her to be considered a “female”, she has to possess certain characteristic that society sees as feminine.
It wasn’t till lately that I started noticing efforts from production companies to fix this problem, by presenting both male and female with similar characteristics. For example many dating shows on MTV at one point did not portray homosexuals, because they possessed characteristics that society was against. Now MTV and other production companies are beginning to realize that what society originally saw as male characteristics is also possessed by some female and vice versa. The survey does reinforce and contradicts some of the original findings, and gives a bit of an idea as to what role ethnicity has to play.
The survey did not consist of enough participants to get a general overview of thoughts on the subject. However, there were enough consensuses among the participants to make a legitimate suggestion. The idea of attaching one particular nonverbal body language to a particular sex is a problem that still needs attention. We live in a world with opposing views on what characteristics a particular sex should posses. Our children are the ones who are at risk of becoming subjects to the stereotype. By observation, they learn what society says about certain nonverbal behaviors. Kids can easily pick up on characteristics through observation.
If a small boy picks up a feminine characteristic such as soft hand gesture, should the parent discipline that child because of what society has taught him/her concerning masculinity? It is up to individuals to teach their kids right from wrong. However, it is important to be educated about what role society plays and may have played in helping form their opinion about this. By understanding and reevaluating this perception, they can make a better judgment as to how much impact they should have on their child/children’s development of non verbal physical characteristics.
The impact of this stereotype can have a major effect on how we as individuals perceive people from other countries. It is important that we realize how much the stereotype of the male and female non verbal body language has distorted our perception. By falling victim to this stereotype we leave no room for an open minded view on opposing characteristics. It makes it difficult for people who travel to feel comfortable because every country/society has different characteristics attached to the male and the female.
By being open minded about these characteristics and not being judgmental, we are more respectful to the people we meet inside and outside of our society. Furthermore, we are able to teach our children not to generalize as society has taught us to. Some heterosexuals may possess nonverbal characteristics that are often attributed to homosexuals. They may not feel comfortable around people who they feel will judge them because of it. It is important for homosexual males to understand that just because someone possesses a homosexual characteristics such as hip swaying, does not mean that person is homosexual.
This is important because oftentimes people engage in physical altercation because of this misconception. By educating ourselves and understanding not to read a person based only on his/her use of non verbal body language, we can avoid being involved in unnecessary situations. Many researchers have done a great job in trying to understand the effect of sex on a person use of non verbal body language. From examining toddlers to examining homosexual/heterosexual adults, they’ve done a great job in drawing a general consensus.
However, there were some downfall to many of the research and that is the lack of research based on different ethnicity. Race can be a determining factor to the use and interpretation of non verbal body language. With different races, comes a different culture. With a different culture come different social norms. Therefore, by engaging in studies based on race alone, researcher can get a better understanding as to how much influence each society had/has on it people. Not too many researches has touched on the impact the media has had on our perceptions of which type of non verbal body language the male and female should use.
The truth of the matter is that the media does play a major role in shaping our views on the subject. By focusing on this aspect, they can shed more light and help educate individuals on how strong an impact the media has on us subconsciously. We live in atmosphere where homosexuality is more tolerated than it was in the past. I think that there should be a more recent research done on sex and nonverbal body language to use as a comparison to the previous researches. Most of the researches that were done back then were based only on observation.
Therefore, I would suggest a survey based on self report to get people opinions on this subject; this would be like the survey that I posted online, but with more participants and much more detailed questions. Non verbal body language is an important characteristic to understand because it varies from person to person, as well as from one society to another. Every society differs in its view of what non verbal characteristics the male and female should possess. By educating ourselves about this, we learn to be more tolerant and respectful on other views that might be different from ours.
Yes sex does have an impact on the type of nonverbal body language is used. However, the impact that sex has is also governed by other things such as the media. Parents need to be aware of how much impact the media has in shaping the opinion and perceptions of their children in regards to masculine and feminine characteristics. Everything from cartoons to the toys that they play with reinforces the message that society tries to enforce. It is easy to rush to judgment on one’s use of non verbal body language in regards to his/her sexuality.
Therefore, we should exercise discretion when making these kinds of judgment. We live in a society that tolerates homosexuality. So, it is easy to understand that a boy growing up with two adult female parents would possess some feminine characteristics. These characteristic should not be what defines that particular boy; nor should it be what determines people’s perception of what might be his sexuality in the future. Overall, it is important to educate ourselves when it comes to the use of nonverbal body language and it relationship to sex and sexuality.