Basic information about nonverbal communication


The first time the importance of nonverbal communication is really mentioned was in 1872 by Charles Darwin. ( The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals Ed John Murray, London, 1872.). It emits at the time the assumption of the universality of emotions.

Efron in 1941 (Efron D, Gesture and environment, New York, King Crown, 1941) made the first systematic study of nonverbal. It demonstrates at this time that when a generation migrates, the children of the second generation observe the behavior of the natives, different from those of their parents' nonverbal behaviors.


Ray Birdwhistell in 1950 founded the kinesthetic. This is the first approach that deals fairly systematically micromovements. (Birdwhistell Ray: Kinesics and context, Essays on body concept communication, 1970).


Edward Hall founds proxemics. He works on the various dimensions that separate individuals and show how the crossing of certain bubbles of communication modifies the way we communicate with each other. (Edward Hall: The Hidden Dimension, Ed Seuil, 1972).

At the turn of the 1950s and 1960s, knowledge of non-verbal mechanisms made important steps.


Gregory Bateson is the first founding the theory of “double-blind": how verbal messages and nonverbal messages may contradict each-other, making a bad communication process.

In this movement also participate further Bateson and Milton Erickson describes in a very practical way the importance of the whole movement of subliminal mechanisms in the act of communication.


Paul Watzlawick is also part of this movement:  The Reality of Reality, Paris, Seuil, 1973 shows to what point we cannot ‘not communicate’. All of these researchers work on what is not seen but what we nevertheless observe, and found together the ”The Invisible College".

During the 1970s two very different movements emerge: a movement towards lucrative business and an academic movement.


Albert Mehrabian is the first to translate into figures the non-verbal to that of words. 

These figures are still used as reference in the scientific community .Albert Mehrabian, Nonverbal Communication, Chicago, Zldine-Atherton, 12972. Mehrabian even offers the figures:

- 7% is words.

- 38% tone timbre, volume/intonation of the voice.

- 55% is non-verbal


At the same time the American researcher Paul Ekman responds directly to Charles Darwin showing that primary emotions are universal.

He implements a device: the FACS (Facial Action coding system) to describe micro-facial reactions to show how facial features express our emotions. A jump in discoveries about the apprehension of the body and its relationship to the brain in the process of communication will be done in the early 1980s. It is the advanced technology that allows the step including the implementation of the scanner, imaging and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), and topography emission tomography (PET).


These findings allow us to understand how emotions are important to read the communication. They also show that emotions are part of reasoning and part of the reason of that structure. 

An epistemological revolution is implemented: the most rational beings are those most affected by their emotions.  Many researchers show in this movement.  Their theories are repeatedly labeled to participate in the movement known as emotional intelligence.  (Daniel Goleman: Emotional Intelligence 1, Robert Laffont, 1997, 481 pages.  Daniel Goleman: Emotional Intelligence 2, Robert Laffont, 2002. 


Quote from this movement born out of understanding neurobiology: 

Antonio Damasio (The error of Descartes', Ed Odile Jacob, 1995, 396 pages.). 

From what he observes in the lesion of the prefrontal lobe, it shows that a being who does not prioritize the information when he does not feel, can not really make rational decisions. 


Joseph LeDoux demonstrates the importance of the amygdala (limbic system) for quick decision making. It shows how in certain circumstances, the amygdala may be faster than the neocortex rational decisions. It shows no say whatsoever and without its main object of study, the importance of subliminal phenomena in the communication process.


Dominant paradigms:

The universality of the human race and thus of its nonverbal communication.

1.  Unconscious and subliminal level cultural differences are more noticeable.

2.  Men and women do not communicate fundamentally differently.

An existing debate seems to run today for researchers on nonverbal communication: This is the debate between the proponents of cultural gestures to those of universal gestures.

It is obvious that conscious cultural codes involved in the communication process, but this communication is only surface communication. At a deeper level desire affects the brain by the same rules for men and women. In the process of communication the traces left on the faces and bodies of human beings translates active communication and received emotion.


By observing the micro-movements of the face and body, we give ourselves the means to understand what is happening in the brain. But rather take an example to better understand why the envisaged mechanisms appear as a universal form:

If a fire arises behind you and you need to save yourself to escape, you will first have your brain sends blood to your legs in order to run. Whether you are European, American, Papuan New Guinea or Balinese, the same mechanism is at work.


The human race operates on the same neurophysiological rules. 

The central nervous system gives orders to the body so that it reacts and active the legs. If you deny the desire to go away while the brain already sent the blood onto your legs in order to go, the calf of your leg will "sting" and itches you for a few short seconds, wherever you came from or who you are.


The unconscious translation of desires is universal because it is unique to the human race; to one human race which sees the activities of his body managed by the two hemispheres of the brain, regardless of the continents where men and women live. Wherever the brain is 

given the task to activate body areas from the central nervous system, it follows the same rules and the same principles. These rules and principles are universal. Besides, if we consider a bit, we understand very quickly that true communication has nothing to do with culture. Some things affect us even before we talk: we do not know who they are, where they come from and their cultural universe may even be poles apart from ours, their referents or language different from ours. Yet when they look at us or try to talk to us, they affect us without us being capable to say why. In fact, unconsciously,  these beings send us by their attitudes universal messages that we receive and unconsciously respond to in return. Our face and body are the tools of this rapprochement.


Men, women and the non-verbal communication relation.

Specific gestures are often more clearly identified in women than in men. In fact in these actions there is no physiological reason to be more specific to women than to men. But in men's attitude a willingness not to give up is present and not see the other as he is, which makes that the psyche of the male excludes a number of mental and -by extension- physical attitudes.


Thus, our mental attitude helps us to shape our body, and our body models our mental attitude, like we "dig" in the body language of our community (parents, brothers, sisters, friends ...) since we all end up marrying the attitudes of our community and our own behavioral expressions. 

This is also the first discovery of non-verbal communication, even before the word appeared. It is due to Efron. He showed how plenty of gestures stayed alive in Jewish-Italian neighborhoods -in the heart of the United States in the Italian culture,and were not lost.

Italian Jews living in America in the 1940s did not yet marry the specificity of American gestures. He thus established one of the first evidences that -very young- we take the models of gestures of our very close ones and print them for life. Cf Efron D: Gesture and environment, New York, King Crown, 1941.


A number of discoveries help us to understand how the difference between the brains of men and women does not enough explain differences in their communication. Some examples:

• Regarding the size of the corpus callosum -often said to be different-; opponents of the theory of gender do not see these differences. (See Bishop KM e D Walhstern, Neuroscience and behavioral Reviews, 21, 581, 1997).

• With regard to the quantities of differences of neurons, while some studies note tiny differences, other studies do not see these. (B Pakkenbergb EH.Gundersen, J.Com, Neurol, 384 312 199)

• There is also talk about men are better in maths skills that would result from further development of the right hemisphere. Experiments using MRI indicate the exact opposite. Areas most appearing to be most activated are the left frontal cortex and the left and right parietal areas. (Research, November 2002, Catherine Vidal) and regardless of sex (S Dehaene, and Al, Science, 184,970,1999)


Similarly regarding differences between men and women are serious arguments against the innate differences between men and women.

o These differences are not detectable until adolescence (Catherine Vidal, op cit)

o They are much more pronounced among white Americans than any other ethnic community

o Compilation of tests showed a progressive reduction of the differences in performance between the sexes since women entered social and professional life. (Feingold, Américan Psychologist, 43, 95, 1998)



Catherine Vidal "Quand l'idéologie envahit la science du cerveau"

La recherche, Hors série, Janv 2002.

Sylvie Steinberg " Représenter la différence des sexes : le tournant des lumières "

Esprit, Avril 2001.

Numéro spécial La Recherche : " Sexes : comment devient-on homme ou femme ?"

Janv 2002. 


General works

Bateson Grégory, Pour une Ecologie de l’esprit,  Coll Seuil, Paris, 2 tomes, 1977. 

The first to really understand what was going on behind simple crossing legs and to suggest that they were not all negative, (far away for that !!!!)


Darwin Charles : The expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals . Ed John Murray , Londres , 1872 .  In particular, he shows that emotions activate the same areas of the brain and trigger the same reactions, whatever part of the world where they are observed..


Gardner Howard, Multiple Intelligences. To change the school: taking into account the different forms of intelligence, 1993 Trad Retz 1996 Published in 1983 in the United States as the Frame of minds (translation 1997) !!! . He refutes the thesis to a favorable factor unique intelligence. These intelligences are: linguistic intelligence, logical-mathematical, musical, spatial, kinesthetic, interpersonal, and intra-personal.


Hall Edward : La dimension cachée, Ed le Seuil, 1972.

Edward Hall is the first to have worked very specifically on communication distances. He even coined the term proxemics to define his method of reading. There are four main distances: 1 public, 2: social distance, 3: intimate, 4:personal.


Johnson  Mark, The body in the mind ,Chicago, The University of Chicago Press, 1987, 233 p.

Johnson wants to consider the ways in which the body structures of our experience, our body movements, object manipulation, involve recurring patterns without which our experience would be chaotic and unintelligible. He speaks of diagrams images, having the first structure of an image, and emerge as structured gestalts of our experience. Metaphorical projection on more abstract domains of our experience enables understanding. This is probably very important to understand the structure of where on the body the micro-scratching (microdémangeaisons) occur.


- Lakoff George & Johnson Mark : Metaphors in everyday life [Les métaphores dans la vie quotidienne (Traduit de l'anglais par Michel de Fornel, en collaboration avec Jean-Jacques Lecercle)Les Éditions de Minuit (Propositions), 1985. Édition originale, The University of Chicago, 1980. For authors our language in its most everyday use is crossed by the metaphor. We use metaphors to describe experiences that we could also define the following terms that correspond to them, but, more radically, and without metaphor we could not talk about our most fundamental experiences. A true proposition is not a proposal that reflects reality as it is in itself, but a proposal that matches the reality as we understand it. Or, as understood through metaphors, we can say, in a way, that reality is structured by our metaphorical system.


Mehrabian Albert : Nonverbal communication, Chicago, Aldine-Atherton , 1972.

Albert Mehrabian showed that the content of the words is only 7% of communication! Alongside the words 38% of communication is attributed to the vocal expression (tone, timbre, 

tone of voice), and 55% of non-verbal communication. He was the first to translate into figures the proportion of non-verbal cues from that word of 1972, its numbers always refer to the scientific community.


Axelrod Robert  : “ The emergence of Cooperation among Egoists ”, American Political Review, 75, 1981, pp. 306-318 

In communication computer modeling made from many real situations, shows that the most      

successful strategy to maximize gains is always the same. 1 In all cases, regardless of who this  

unknown (e), our first gesture should always be an opening gesture, a sign to show our desire to  

cooperate. 2 The next step is to act exactly like the other just react to us (positive if it was positive, 

negative if it is negative), to make him understand that "make weight "facing him. This strategy can effectively reduce the other to cooperate, if he decided not to indulge them. This strategy works best as possible winnings. It seems that this model is most effective. It is known today as the theorem Axelrod is the attitude called "cooperative behavior". 


Schutzenberger Anne-Ancelin :  In the 1970s a number of authors have indeed modeled the attitude of "winning", that is actually dominant, those whose social life appeared as a full success. They developed what is now called the criteria of "excellence." Many in nonverbal communication characteristics of the dominant ones are identified and described in the doctoral thesis of Anne Ancelin Schutzenberger. 


Robert-Ouvray Suzanne.B : motor integration and psychic development, Desclée Brouwer, 276 pages, Paris, 1997. 

At birth the child's wrists are not open, they take the focus of their more closed against their chest. Turned on them for six months, they take the various objects that are sent to them. Then at that age, suddenly they begin to throw things. At six months, the children do not abandon for lack of attention, they decide to part, they are ready to open. They see that there is outside, the Other different from oneself. This attitude of awareness of another reality that his own reality appears in children in strategies in which it gets rid of the objects. 

o Self-awareness across her face is captured from the test of the task. When doing a job on the forehead of a child and that he be placed in front of the mirror, he is not interested in it for two years. It is therefore not aware before that age that his face is really his.

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