Is Body Language Universal?

For all the importance we place on words, whether spoken or written, much of the communicating we do on a regular basis comes through body language.  

According to pioneering research  by Dr. Albert Mehrabian, only seven percent of human communication is derived from the actual spoken words used.  On the other hand, an additional 38 percent comes from tone of voice while a whopping 55 percent occurs through body language alone.   Though these findings remain controversial, there is no disputing that facial expressions, physical gestures, how we posture our bodies, and even patterns of breathing can provide an amazing array of information for other people to interpret.   

Researchers have long identified that certain kinds of body movements and facial expressions can convey information about the emotions we happen to be experiencing at the time.   Even when physical movements are broken down into point-light displays that convey minimal information about how we move,  research subjects are still able to interpret emotional states based solely on body language.   But are these emotional signals shaped by different cultures or are they universal to all humans?   A new research article published in the journal Emotion attempts to answer this question through an ambitious cross-cultural study.    A team of researchers led by Thalia Wheatley of Dartmouth College traveled to Ratanakiri, Cambodia to study members of a remote Kreung hill tribe.    The Kreung are one of the indigenous groups living in Cambodia's highlands and are still largely isolated from Khmer society.   

To read more, check out my new Psychology Today blog post


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