Gestures in nonverbal communication

Including gestures as a form of  nonverbal communication is still a matter of debate among scholars. Some of them, with arguments, claim that this type of communication  cannot be dissociated from verbal communication and, by consequence, should be studied together with it. People are gesticulating especially when they are talking, and the main purpose of gesticulation is to emphasize what is spoken and to sustain the cognitive tasks related to speech.  The true?  More complicated, I guess; gestures are expressing both cognitive and affective processes.

For a better understanding of multiple functions provided by gesticulation, I will appeal to gesture’s classification made by Paul Ekman and  Wallace Friesen, which is a classical one in the field. According to them, gestures  have been classified as :

Gestures Emblems

Are those gestures who have a verbal translation and who are replacing one or more words. They are culturally determined and have a precise meaning within certain group or society. Emblems may repeat, substitute or contradict the verbal behavior. Emblems are gesture whose meaning is understood by both sender and receiver. An example of emblem you can find it bellow. It belongs to anglo-saxon cultural space, but through mass media now has a global reach.

nonverbal communication gestures emblems

Photo 1–  This is an emblem frequently used  between  drivers, when is heavy traffic, in order to express their tenderness towards each other.

Gestures Illustrators

There are gestures produced while we are speaking and whom meaning cannot be dissociated from speech. For instance, if you want to say how big is the fish you have caught, you open hands, like in the picture bellow. If we don’t know what the speaker is saying, the gesture is meaningless; and if we know it… well, is just a fisherman’s lie.

The frequency and intensity of using illustrators can provide us information about emotional state of the speaker; when he is exhausted, depressed, speaker will use less gestures, but when is enthusiast, happy, will use more and gestures will be larger. The shape of illustrators is specific to every person and it says something about temperament and personality of the person.  Illustrators are heavily used by professionals speakers (politicians, leaders), because they bring a persuasiveness bonus to the speech.

nonverbal communication gestures illustrators

Photo 2 – Mircea Dinescu, a writer for whom words are not enough

Gestures Adaptors

These gestures were initial learned as an effort to satisfy self and body’s needs, to make some corporal actions, to cope with emotions, to develop interpersonal contacts or to learn instrumental activities. There are usually performed in private, or in public if the individual think he is alone, (ex. scratching, picking the nose). When the person is aware that is watched, usually the gesture is partial.  If speaking, most often the speaker is not aware about this gestures.

Adaptors provide us most information regarding the emotional state of the issuer, especially that they are not used deliberately to communicate. There is no inherent relationship between adaptors and speech, but adaptors may be triggered by the discussion, when topic is sensitive. Examples of adaptors; hand to the nose, forehead, ears, backhead, covering the eyes. Adaptors appear most of the time in stressful situations and may be a clue of lying.

nonverbal communication gestures adaptorsPhoto  3 –  The lady in the picture displays certain adaptors. It is clear that she is in a stressful situation, requesting some kind of help, which I think many of us would hurry to provide it