Understanding Nonverbal Communication

Course No. 5937
Professor Mark G. Frank, Ph.D.
University at Buffalo, The State University of New York
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Course No. 5937
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What Will You Learn?

  • Understand why nonverbal communication matters so much, and learn how it interacts with verbal communication to reemphasize or deemphasize the message.
  • Study how the use of space, architecture, lighting, and other, ambiguous external factors can all have an impact on how we feel, react, and behave.
  • Probe into the nonverbal elements of the voice: the configurations of pausing, the irregularities of speech, and vocal tone.
  • Discover how much you can-and can't-tell about a person just from their voice and speech patterns.
  • Look at the myths and facts about how age-old cultural references in seeking mates and partners have evolved into snap judgments about personality types.

Course Overview

Posture. Eye contact and blinking. Gestures. Tone and pitch. Gait. Body type and clothing choices. How much of our communication is nonverbal? Many people have heard the claim that 93% of what we express is conveyed through nonverbal communication. After a study in the 1960s, this idea spread into mainstream thinking and changed the way we viewed and interpreted our interactions with others.

In Understanding Nonverbal Communication, you’ll discover that nonverbal communication is less intentional and harder to control than the words you choose to speak, and you are less aware of it than you are of your words, so it provides better clues to what you are feeling and thinking. You can deliberately decide what to say, but from the deeper subcortical regions of your brain come your involuntary nonverbal expressions, including changes in blood pressure, sweat, pupil dilation, increased heart rate, facial movements, or blushing cheeks—any of which can speak more about your intentions or emotions than your actual words might. In 12 revealing lectures, you’ll explore the history, evolution, and context of both the outright obvious and the sublimely subtle nuances of personal expression.

Interestingly, the 93% statistic mentioned above is not accurate—it’s impossible to truly quantify every nuance of nonverbal communication. Regardless, what made this study so important was the revelation that recognizing and correctly interpreting nonverbal expressions is essential to fully understanding how people communicate. Once begun, the study of nonverbal communication was embraced by psychologists, communication scientists, sociologists, anthropologists, ethologists, biologists, and even political scientists and economists. The science of nonverbal communication has revealed intriguing insights into everything from how aspects of your reactions are biologically hardwired to how you are subconsciously influenced to vote by political speakers, and even to predicting relationship status—whether people are attracted to each other and the likelihood that they will stay together.

Throughout this course, you will explore the role of nonverbal communication as it relates to understanding other people’s worldviews and interaction styles. With careful observation, you can capitalize on this science to further appreciate human expression, smooth social interactions, and strengthen relationships—helping to make the world a better and more accepting place.

There is certainly no lack of resources for information about nonverbal communication; however, very little of what you will come across is based on systematic studies. This course will view the scope of nonverbal communication through the lens of science, led by Dr. Mark Frank, Professor and Department Chair of the Department of Communication and the Director of the Communication Science Center at the University at Buffalo, The State University of New York. From what you choose to wear to how fast you walk, you’re consciously and unconsciously sending messages about yourself, your beliefs, and your personality, and we are consciously and unconsciously receiving these signals and making assumptions about you. This course provides the scientific analysis of the message being sent and how it is received.

Nonverbal Communication: Vital to Survival

One of the most fascinating aspects of this course is the in-depth research Dr. Frank reveals around the biological and anthropological aspects of nonverbal communication. He demonstrates how our endurance as a species can be directly tied to how our ability to present our intentions has evolved.

Like many other animals, we primarily live in social groups. Dogs live in packs, elephants in herds, and chimpanzees and bonobos—our closest relatives—are very social animals. None of these animals speak, yet they can communicate about danger, social status, friendliness, and so forth. Further, scientists have found that the throat anatomy of the skeletons of non-Homo sapiens suggests that some human ancestors were not capable of articulate speech, either. The anatomy of early human remains demonstrates a lack, or alternative location, of the hyoid bone, making the larynx (our voice box) so small that speech was rendered impossible. Our ancestors’ throats resembled those of chimpanzees, and scientists have demonstrated that you cannot teach a chimp to “speak” beyond a limited number of sounds. Our ancestors, as early as 100,000-200,000 years ago, were strictly nonverbal creatures. Because that is not a large time frame on an evolutionary scale, scientists believe this is why the nonverbal parts of our communication are still with us.

The most common human expressions are a result of our drive to demonstrate our intent so others can coordinate similarly appropriate reactions. The emotions conveyed in our facial expressions and body language can indicate that we want to prevent conflict or initiate it, demonstrate hierarchy, signal danger, invite others to approach, or ask for help. The following basic emotions are communicated most strongly through our faces, and to a lesser degree in our voices:

  • Anger – signals attack; allows others to back off and prevent conflict
  • Contempt – signals status; groups with clear status hierarchies are more stable
  • Disgust – signals bad food; shows others what not to eat
  • Fear – signals danger; others can see and adjust their behavior accordingly
  • Happy or enjoyment – signals approachability
  • Sad or distress- signals something is wrong, needs attention
  • Surprise – signals something novel, trains attention to figure out what it is

The particular pattern of these expressions is universal across all human beings. Even our most base instincts are illustrated with nonverbal communication: When presented with a challenge, a simple facial expression or change in posture and stance can let our friends and foes know if we are about to fight due to anger or take flight due to fear. Nonverbal communication is thus essential to survival—survival of the individual and survival of the group.

The Human Lie Detector Is A Lie

Many people have high levels of confidence in their abilities to read other people. We understand that others can say what they will about what they think or feel, but we often scrutinize them and observe the subtleties in their behavior for clues that may tell us what’s really going on. If you’ve ever watched a high-stakes poker game, you may see the players analyzing each other’s expressions and nervous tics for “tells” about whether they have good hands or they are bluffing. And, in fact, one of the most common reasons people try to read each other is to determine sincerity. Is it true that everybody lies? Alas, yes. Studies have shown that we all tend to tell 1-2 lies every day. Dr. Frank jokes that 99% of people have admitted to telling a lie, and the remaining 1% are liars.

With the plethora of TV shows about human lie detectors, many people consider themselves experts in being able to read a person who is not being truthful. Sadly, those shows are mostly fictional as well, and Dr. Frank is a perfect expert to debunk these myths. His work has examined the behaviors associated with real versus falsified emotions, behaviors that occur when people lie, and the factors that make people better or worse judges of emotion and deception. His work has been funded by The National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Department of Defense, and the intelligence community. He has published numerous research papers analyzing deception, facial expressions, emotion, and violence in real-world contexts. He has also coedited two books on the subject. An outstanding expert in this field, his conclusion is that there is no behavior that guarantees that a person is lying.

One of the reasons for this is that nonverbal communication consists of a variety of different signals emanating from the face, the eyes, the movements of the shoulders, the hands, the fingers, the body, the voice tone, and the speaking style. Trying to capture this in a single test is quite difficult. Furthermore, every person is unique, and signs associated with telling a lie will manifest differently from person to person. Some may sweat, others may not maintain eye contact, or the eyes will roll a certain direction, or they will blink excessively, and still others may have verbal tics such as stuttering or babbling. However, when lying, a different set of people may relay a story with a calm and collected demeanor, they may maintain perfect eye contact, and they may tell a concise and short story, avoiding as many extra words as possible. All of these behaviors can be signs of other things besides lying, such as thinking on one’s feet, and are not guaranteed proof that a person is lying.

Even if you were to focus on just the facial expression, accurate and generalizable analysis is a daunting task to perfect. Darwin undertook one of the earliest attempts to study this facet of social science in the late 1800s. Since then, there have been over 100 studies examining the ability of people to judge others’ emotions from facial expressions. When it comes to recognizing the basic facial expressions such as anger, contempt, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, and surprise, scientist find that people tend to recognize the correct emotion at rates greater than 80%. But when it comes to recognizing deceit, we will never be perfect, because all of the mechanisms that we employ to conceal, fabricate, or feel can happen for reasons other than lying.

The Global Benefits of Understanding Nonverbal Communication

Being able to read people better has all sorts of advantages beyond just confirming truth. Research shows that those who are better at reading others are able to maintain more harmonious relationships. They often receive better evaluations from their supervisors in the workplace. Salespeople who can read their customers better get more sales. Police officers who are better at reading people get more confessions that are upheld in court. Reading nonverbal communication gives you the ability to anticipate problems, and thus adjust your behaviors to head those minor problems off before they turn into major problems.

There are a number of simple tools you’ll learn from Dr. Frank that can help you improve your ability to interpret nonverbal communication. For example, observe your interpersonal relationships, and those of others. You will be surprised what you see when you simply look and listen, without speaking. Dr. Frank notes that Yogi Berra said it best: “You can observe a lot by watching.”

Dr. Frank is careful to point out there is no magic technique that will allow you to know everything a person is thinking just by their expression. Add to this is the dilemma that people around the world just do things differently. Avoiding eye contact is considered rude in many Western cultures, while it’s considered rude to make eye contact in some Eastern cultures. In some societies, shaking your head from side to side means yes, while nodding your head up and down means no. As George H. W. Bush unfortunately learned in 1992, a hand gesture meaning peace in the U.S., when turned around, is an obscene gesture in Australia. Different cultures have different rules to regulate their nonverbal communication. Because many of our nonverbal reactions are so automatic and done without thinking, we tend to believe that the rules that regulate the nonverbal communication we use are normal. Deviations from those rules result in us feeling lost and very self-conscious, as well as suspicious of those who violate those rules.

Despite the many cultural differences between people across the world, the reality is that when it comes to basic communication, we are all really much more similar than we are different. We have an evolutionary, built-in common platform for understanding in our feelings and our emotions. We share a wonderful biological-psychological legacy that lives in us today. By understanding our shared heritage and learning how to better interpret nonverbal communication, you have a launching point for shared understanding, cooperation, and kindness—all of which results in a better world for us all.

At the conclusion of this course, you’ll come to realize that the “invisible” world of nonverbal communication was always visible to you. After learning how to read the signals and understanding how they have come about, you will be armed with the knowledge and skills to recognize and analyze it. And, as Dr. Frank emphasizes again and again, when you understand nonverbal communication, you understand people.

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12 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    The Science of Nonverbal Communication
    Learn about the popular, and often incorrectly referenced, study from the 1960s that opened the door to the modern study of nonverbal communication. Understand why nonverbal communication matters so much, and learn how it interacts with verbal communication to reemphasize or deemphasize the message. x
  • 2
    The Meaning of Personal Space
    Examine the biological drives, such as territorialism, that influence our nonverbal reactions. Define the three levels" of territories and see how they affect our reaction. Understanding this is an inherent reaction in everyone can help reduce social conflicts." x
  • 3
    Space, Color, and Mood
    See how you send signals by just by the colors you choose to wear, or the makeup and scent you apply. Trace the evolution of why certain colors or smells still send subtle and often unconscious messages. Study how the use of space, architecture, lighting, and other, seemingly ambiguous external factors can all have an impact on how we feel, react, and behave. x
  • 4
    What Body Type Doesn't Tell You
    Can we predict behavior and personality based on the body or the face? Are taller people more likely to earn more money than shorter people? What makes someone's face attractive? Dr. Frank looks at the myths and facts about how age-old cultural references in seeking mates and partners have evolved into snap judgments about personality types, which can have an effect on our potential success. x
  • 5
    Evolution's Role in Nonverbal Communication
    Unravel the long history of how nonverbal communication has evolved, how and why we originally interacted with others, and how the biological history of our bodies suggests that our ability to communicate verbally was so limited, the only way we could send messages to friends and foes was through facial expressions and body language. You'll also explore the seven emotions communicated most strongly and accurately through our faces. x
  • 6
    Secrets in Facial Expressions
    Take a closer look at facial expressions, learning that some reactions may be superficially easy to read, while other expressions demonstrate a conflict of feelings or nuances that often get lost in the interpretation. Learn how Darwin, as well as contemporary psychologists Paul Ekman and Carroll Izard, studied facial and body expressions to determine that certain expressions of emotion may be universal across cultures, despite social display rules" that often contradict each other from culture to culture." x
  • 7
    Hidden Clues in Vocal Tones
    Probe into the nonverbal elements of the voice: the configurations of pausing, the irregularities of speech, and vocal tone. Tone includes the amplitude (volume), timbre, resonance, and pitch of the voice. How fast you talk, how much you say, and how long you wait to respond all send messages about the message you are about to convey. Discover how much you can-and can't-tell about a person just from their voice and speech patterns. x
  • 8
    Cues from Gestures and Gait
    Body language communicates many things, and often contradicts messages that our words convey. Divide the body into the areas that send the clearest signals about your intent to better understand how to use your posture and gestures to communicate. Explore how the position of your hands and head, your gait as you walk, and how much space you take up all send indications about who you are and how you feel. You'll also discover how changing your posture and your facial expression can not only influence how others see you, but also those actions can actually affect your mood. x
  • 9
    Interpreting Nonverbal Communication
    How good are we at reading people? Can we train ourselves to be better at this skill, or is it an inherent ability? This lecture explores a number of studies that measure the ability to read facial expressions, voice and tone, and body language. Get some tips for improving your own ability to read nonverbal communication. x
  • 10
    Cultural Differences in Nonverbal Communication
    While the previous lectures explored the biological evolution of nonverbal communication, which are hard-wired into most living creatures, this lecture delves into the fascinating impact culture has had on nonverbal communication. Examine the nonverbal communication differences that are driven by the integration of biology and culture, including the unwritten display rules that every culture adopts. You'll learn about the concepts of mono- and polychronic time cultures, of high and low context cultures, and individualist versus collectivist cultures. Lastly, you'll learn things not to do in certain cultures, even if they are perfectly acceptable where you come from. x
  • 11
    Spotting Nonverbal Deception
    The ability to detect a lie by clues in the voice, body language, or facial expression is a much-desired skill. When under scrutiny, most people react with aroused emotions-anxiety, for example-even when they are telling the truth. Start this lecture learning the difference between a deception and a lie; for example, not disclosing all the facts versus outright fabricating a story. Then explore the scientific data behind our ability to read honesty. x
  • 12
    Communicating Attraction
    Conclude the course by revealing how the ability to better read nonverbal communication can affect our daily relationships and help us have a better chance of success in all areas of life. From job interviews to doctor's visits, Dr. Frank will show you the impact nonverbal communication has in everyday situations. You'll also discover that although many cultural differences affect nonverbal communication, people are much more similar than we are different, and our shared biological-psychological legacy will continue to unite us, especially if we take the time to notice and understand what is being communicated. x

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Your professor

Mark G. Frank

About Your Professor

Mark G. Frank, Ph.D.
University at Buffalo, The State University of New York
Dr. Mark G. Frank is a Professor and Chair of the Department of Communication, as well as the Director of the Communication Science Center at the University at Buffalo, The State University of New York. Dr. Frank received his B.A. in Psychology from the University at Buffalo and received his Ph.D. in Social Psychology from Cornell University. Dr. Frank’s work has examined the behaviors associated with real versus...
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Reviews

Understanding Nonverbal Communication is rated 3.7 out of 5 by 89.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Pictures demonstrate exactly content! I flip go thru looking for interesting courses, and this struck me coming from a big city being able to see body language on crowded subways, buses and elevators, and expressions generally everywhere, and the vibes that I may give out. Especially on the crowded places as I am critically claustrophobic! love the course!
Date published: 2019-09-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Learned a lot! I listened to the audio version of the course and learned a lot! Excellent information and presentation.
Date published: 2019-08-07
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Non verbal communication This audio was a waste of time. Very pedestrian and superficial. It lacked specifics. Do not buy this.
Date published: 2019-08-04
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Almost Average. This is a course of "almost". We learned all the technical terms used in the subject research and we "almost" learned how to use the information presented. We heard that students in the FBI, police departments and military had been taught how to use the methods that are described but we never had the comparisons of the expressions by each emotion shown to us so we "almost" learned how to use them ourselves. The instructor was always on the brink of doing this but then would go to a different point. It became obvious half way through the course that he would never show enough to really understand nonverbal communication. Perhaps he didn't want to lose his teaching gigs if the course really did what it was named. So please rename the course, "Almost Understanding Nonverbal Communication".
Date published: 2019-05-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent information and discussion. The information provided was excellent and useful in my life and career. I recommend this for anyone because we all interact with other people.
Date published: 2019-05-15
Rated 3 out of 5 by from The Science of NonVerbal Communication I feel like I should be inserting emoticons into this review! isn't that how most emotional communications happens these days? I took the course in the hopes of learning more the craft of interpreting nonverbal communications, but I was treated to the science of understanding nonverbal communications. For this reason alone I give the course a three-star rating - because my expectations were not met. However, I do think the professor and the content are very good. And I did learn more of what lies beneath the nonverbal cues I see in people. It's just that understanding how the brain drives nonverbal cues was not the heart drive for nonverbal cues I was looking for.
Date published: 2019-04-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent presentation I thought I was pretty good at reading other people’s non verbal communications but this course definitely showed me new and interesting ideas and techniques
Date published: 2019-04-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Lots of great examples. I enjoyed this course. The instructor was very credible. He provided good examples and portrayed them a way that avoided exaggeration.
Date published: 2019-02-27
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