The Echoes of the Mind (137-5) Kinesics


Although people often verbally reveal emotions, nonverbal emotional displays are more potent conveyors. The most extensively studied aspect of nonverbal communication is kinesics, which is the interpretation of body motion, such as facial expressions and gestures.

A great deal of information is communicated even in fleeting glimpses of expressive behavior. ~ Nalini Ambady & American psychologist Robert Rosenthal

Many nonverbal communication displays are common to all primates; others are cultural. Northeast Asians and northern Europeans are relatively restrained in their nonverbal displays compared to southern Europeans, Africans, or Mexicans.

Kinesic behaviors culturally differ in their intensities. Northern Europeans and Americans seem unexpressive to most Italians, Greeks, or Egyptians. Conversely, the gestural fervor of Mediterranean people strikes many Americans as overly emotional, and even undignified.

US Vice President Richard Nixon visited Venezuela in 1956. During a public speech, he twice flashed the “a-ok” hand emblem. It provoked rioting. In Venezuela, that gesture is used the same way that “flipping the bird” is in the US. (The scurrilous middle-finger jerk, popular among agitated Americans, dates at least to classical times as a sign of abuse. The ancient Romans called the gesture digitus impudicus.)

In China, Italy, and Columbia, moving the fingers back and forth toward one’s body signals goodbye. American use that gesture to indicate “come here.”