The Kinesic Code

WEEK THREE: Information Theory and Non-Verbal Communication


So far our discussion of nonverbal communication has been general. Now let's look at the specific channels that make up the non-verbal system.


The Kinesic Code One : Body movement and Gesture

Our bodies are an important source of non-verbal meaning. Whether we lean in toward someone or move away, whether our stance is wide and strong or narrow and weak, whether we talk with our hands, or remain perfectly still -we tell others a lot about ou rselves.


Emblems are basic kinesic behaviors whose direct verbal translations are known to all of the members of a social group. Emblems are like silent words.

Example: Scuba Diving

BGRAF Big Girls Really Are Fun, I'm out of air, Let's buddy breathe,

Danger, I'll follow you, You follow me, Look here, Watch me, I'm O.K.

Example: North American Society:

Shame on you, All right! , That went over my head. I didn't understand that at all., What time is it?, I can't hear you. ,I'm cold.

Yes., No. ,He's crazy

The sign O.K (thumb and index finger touching in a circle with the rest of the fingers outstretched can in other countries mean either money or can obscenely signify female genitalia.

Example: Overhead of officials rules in sports

Regulators: Are non verbal behaviors that act as 'traffic signals' during interaction.

These regulators consist of head nods, hand movements or eye contact that allows us to maintain, request or deny others to talk. Regulators usually occur so rapidly and automatically that we are usually no aware that we are even using them.

Affect Displays: Body movements that affect emotional states are called affect displays.

When we want to know how a person is feeling we look at their face. The rest of the body is usually equally expressive.

Example: Overhead and body posture

Adaptors: Have you every noticed how some people engage in odd, repetitive nervous mannerisms?

Examples: Tapping pens, kicking feet, twirling hair, play with their jewelry, groom themselves etc.

These are behaviors that people use to adapt to stresses and to satisfy personal needs.

Examples: Bill Gates touches the side frame of his glasses.

Bill Clinton fiddles with his glasses.


The Kinesic Code Two: Expression and Eye Behavior

The face is the arena most people turn to for information about others. We believe that the eyes are the mirror to the soul. We like people with open friendly faces and not those with shifty eyes.

Facial Displays: Studies suggest that the reason we smile when we are happy and cry when sad is that smiling and crying are part of our biological inheritance. In other words, 'emotional' expressions have been 'pre-wired' into our brains.

Eye Behavior: Eye behavior is also a good indication of both positive and negative emotions. The eyes also signal a willingness to relate to each other.

Paralinguistics: Vocal Behavior including characteristics of the voice (pitch, tone, and intonation patterns) and vocalizations ( groans, cries, giggles, yawns and vocal segregates (pauses and fillers such as "um" and "uh huh".)

These can be eloquent testimonies to emotional states, but they can also be cues to make judgements about personality types.



Trenholm, Sarah. (1999) Thinking Through Communication. Second Edition. Allyn and Bacon