Last updated: August 11, 2019
Topic: LawGovernment
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Communication with help of gestures is one of the leading ways of communication. Together with communication with help of odors, mimic, pose and body contacts, it is a component of speechless communication, the language of body. Science, studying the language of body is called kinesics. The aim of this essay is to examine study of kinesics from Ekman’s and Friesen’s point of view.


There are two main opinions regarding nature of speechless communication. The first one is developed by specialists in the field of social and humanitarian sciences (R. Birdwistell is one of them), which supports thesis of full social determination of body language (gesture communication is formed within the limits of definite culture and linguistic group). The second group of scientists – specialists in the field of natural sciences (ethologists, primatologists, physiologists, psychologists, etc – P. Ekman, Friesen, J. Van Hoff and others) focus attention on biological grounds of human behavior and gives arguments, supporting existence of class of non-verbal universal features – motions, made in similar way, which are equally understandable to people of different cultures. Modern information in the field of non-verbal communication witnesses that both approaches have right for existence

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Communication with help of gestures plays important role in human communication. During his evolution a human being used gesture channel of communication, understanding and estimating emotional condition of his congeners by spontaneous motions of their body, hands and legs. For example, semiotics understands by word “gesture” a motion of body (by head, eyes, hands, fingers, etc), which serves as conventional sign. In such interpretation forefinger put on the lips (in the meaning of “silence”) is a gesture – as distinct from involuntary scratch which is a physiological motion and cannot be interpreted as a sign. In ethology, for example, gesture is only a motion by hands (manual gestures). All gestures can be divided into two big groups: emotional expressions and dialogue signals.

Emotional expressions are direct reflection of internal state of executor. For example, Darwin considered emotional expressions (first of all, mimics) to be congenital and universal for all types of human culture, and this point of view is generally accepted nowadays. For example,  smile, cry, laugh, expression of fear or bewilderment are easy to understand by Europeans and representatives of pre-industrial cultures – Papuans from New Guinea, Indians of the Southern America or inhabitants of the Southern Africa (bushmen) – and are interpreted in the similar way.

Culture prescribes definite rules of demonstration or rules of gesture behavior to its members (definition by P. Ekman and Friesen, 1969) – rules of emotional expression, which depend on social context. Those rules of demonstration can vary from culture to culture and can modify universal expressions to such great extent, that some researchers speak about cultural specifics of emotional expressions. Such point of view is correct only partially. Modern researches have shown that being alone, representatives of all cultures react in similar emotional way to similar stimuli, whereas being with strangers, and their emotional expressions are subordinated to rules of demonstration, which are used in culture. At the same time cultures vary by extent of emotional expressions during communication process, particularly by intensiveness of communications (cultures of high and low kinesics). We know also that intensiveness of communication in Europe increases from North to South. Scandinavians, Norwegians, Dutch have minimal emotional expression in communication, and Spanish, Southern Italians and Greeks are rich in gestures and intensiveness of communication.


Ekman’s model of communication.

Ekman and Friesen (1967) proposed common theory of non-verbal behavior, including model and categories, which helps to describe forms of non-verbal communication on the basis of his research (pp. 711-724). First of all Ekman enumerated those prevailing circumstances, which a consultant should take into account during researching of non-verbal communication. They are as follows:

  1. External conditions (for example, environment) and other circumstances (for example, emotional background of interaction);
  2. Correlation of non-verbal behavior with verbal (for example, why do we use non-verbal action for: for illustration, explanation, repeating or negation, etc);
  3. The client should understand the fact, that he makes (or made) some definite non-verbal action (level of understanding);
  4. Intention of client to express his feelings with non-verbal means of communication;
  5. External reverse connection (in which way does the consultant treat information, which is presented by client?);
  6. Type of reported information (unique or general character) (Ekman, 1973, p.726).


Categories of non-verbal behavior.

Ekman underlines five main categories of non-verbal behavior.


  1. a) Emblems.

Emblems include such actions or poses, the sense of which can be expressed verbally with help of one-two words. Emblems usually have general meaning for majority of people and are used intentionally in order to transfer definite expression (for example, raising two fingers in gesture “V”). Those gestures can be iconic and symbolic. Iconic gestures appear in culture by way of copying of real objects and actions. The example of such copying can be gesture, defining telephone; a gesture, imitating process of smoking (motion of hand with imaginary cigarette between fingers and imitation of lip motion, illustrating smoke),; a gesture of delight, etc. In contrast to iconic gestures, symbolical gestures can understand only to “consecrated” people, because they don’t contain direct reflection of image of object or action. Such gesture can be a sign “Everything is OK” (thumb up), etc.


  1. b) Illustrators.

Illustrators are such expressions, which usually directly accompany to the speech and have functions of pictograms, increasing clearness of verbal expressions.


  1. c) Expressions of fit of passion.

Those expressions include all mimics. Face expression gives us more information about emotions than body gestures. Although there are rules of mimic emotional expressions, socially adopted and based on cultural traditions, Ekman’s theory supposes that face expressions, corresponding to so-called primary emotions (happiness, bewilderment, anger, etc) are quite similar in all cultures and are easily recognized. Messages, transferred with help of expressions of fit passion, attract more attention, than messages, expressed by other means of non-verbal communication. Addresser often uses then intentionally, and addressee often directly comments information, received in such a way.


  1. d) Regulators.

This category includes such forms of behavior, which regulate course of talk between two individuals. Head nods are the most popular regulator of that kind. Ekman (1973) affirms in his theory that regulators depend on nationality, social class and culture and says that erroneous usage and wrong interpretation of those regulators are widespread. Such mistakes are the reasons of misunderstanding between representatives of different groups of people.


  1. e) Adapters.

Adapters include such forms of non-verbal behavior, which are shortened variants of some actions, learned already in early childhood, which served to satisfaction of definite needs. There are three types of adapters:


– Self-adapters.

For example, such self-adaptor as rubbing the eyes by hand appeared as gesture, the aim of which was to wipe tears, but later started to be used as expression of offence and grief. Self adapters often have form of touches the head and face (Ekman, 1965, pp. 726-735).


– Alter-adapters.

Alter-adapters usually have form of motions with hands in space, but not in the contact with body. Alter-adapters appeared on the basis of attempts to control interpersonal contacts in the early childhood and are shortened variants of those forms of behavior, which were used in defense of attack or alienation from something unpleasant.


– Object-adapters.

Object-adapters are those fragments of behavior forms, which are learned to execute such tasks as smoking, typing or cards shuffling. They are used in the cases, when some aspect of interaction with interlocutor stimulates reproduction of such kinds of behavior.


Non-verbal outflow of information and signs of lie.

How can we notice on the base of non-verbal behavior, that a person tries to deceive the other people or himself? Ekman calls such situations “false interactions” and tries to draw a distinction between self-deception and deception of other people.

There are three characteristics, which distinct false interaction from other kinds of social interactions. One of them is, actually, a lie; in other words, a conscious concentration on deception, at least from the side of one interlocutor. The second characteristic is presence of hidden or evident agreement between interlocutors that they will be accomplices or antagonists in deceit (Ekman & Friesen, 1968, pp. 170-216). The third characteristics is adopting of role of liar or detective. For example, client during the talk with interlocutor can try to mislead him relatively some definite aspect of his behavior. Consultant can decide whether he wants to cooperate with interlocutor in this process or to perform the role of antagonist, to unmask discrepancies in client’s talk. Noticing non-verbal outflow of information, indicating the deceit, consultant should focus attention both on verbal and non-verbal behavior of client. Verbal behavior includes false message, whereas non-verbal behavior increases and enriches it. In such a way, the client lies by words, and his actions should correspond to his words.

Noticing changes in client’s behavior in order to develop theory of non-verbal behavior, consultants should underline, that face, hands and legs express different volume of information and to different extent receive reverse relation. Face expresses information better and attracts maximum attention. Legs and feet express information worse of all, because time of transmission is low, and repertoire is quite limited. Hands have a “middle” position. Therefore, face lies best of all, and our legs almost don’t lie. So, legs are the main source of “outflow of information” about deceit: legs motions are rarely used intentionally.

As for the hands, self-adapters show deceit more often: for example, the client smiles and chats cheerfully, but at the same time tries to get rid of hangnail or doubles his hands into a fist. Object-adapters also can express deceit (for example, nervous playing with a pencil). Ekman’s theory is confirmed by his researches: for example, people cannot understand, whether the hero in the film lies or tells truth, if they see only his face, and on the contrary, people see deceit more quickly, when they have opportunity to see his whole body (Ekman & Friesen, 1969, pp. 49-98). A person, who lies, uses bigger quantity of self-adapters. Frequency of self-adapters, such as touches to face or head increases, when a speaker has difficulties in choosing expressions, and also depends on level of emotional involvement of a person in his speech.


In conclusion I want to tell that different forms of non-verbal communication are used to make verbal message more emotional, to accentuate some part of message, to explain silence, to attach new information to saying or to distort verbal message. With help of theoretical models consultant can understand contribution of non-verbal behavior in consultative relations easier. Sensitiveness to non-verbal messages demands concentration and is developed in the process of training.


Works Cited:

  1. , et al. (1973) Studies in communication through non-verbal behavior. In J. Segal (Ed.), Mental Health Program Reports (Vol.6). Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 112-125
  2. Ekman P. ( 1965). “Differential communication of affect by head and body cues”. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2 , 726-735.
  3. Ekman P., & Friesen W. V. ( 1967). “Head and body cues in the judgment of emotion: A reformulation”. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 24 , 711-724.
  4. Ekman P., & Friesen W. V. ( 1968). “Nonverbal behavior in psychotherapy research”. In. J. M. Shlien (Ed.), Research in psychotherapy (Vol. 3, pp. 179-216). Washington, American Psychological Association.
  5. Ekman P., & Friesen W. V. ( 1969). “The repertoire of nonverbal behavior. Categories, origins, usage, and coding”. Semiotica, 1 , 49-98