The ability to communicate with one another is of paramount importance to the success of the human race (Hartley, 1999). Communication is a dynamic process with the interacting components of sending and receiving information. Nonverbal cues may provide clarity or contradiction for a message being sent (Dunn, 1998). This is not to say that nonverbal forms of communication merely provide a modem of clarity for verbal communication, they can, and do, stand alone (Krauss et al, 1995). Facial expressions, body movements, gaze and posture can all be used to provide further emphasis to language communication or can be employed silently and still convey important messages (Danziger, 1976). This paper will discuss the role nonverbal communication plays in reference to social interaction and what happens in its absence, using autism studies as examples.
Nonverbal communication has many functions in the communication process (Dunn, 1998). In 1976, Danziger outlined what he believed to be the three main roles of nonverbal communication. ‘Presentation’ is the first of three categories. Danziger argued that nonverbal communication is able to convey the structure of interpersonal relationships between individuals by displaying levels of closeness. For example, the difference between acquaintances and lovers could be acknowledged by differing levels of eye contact, proximity, bodily contact and so on. Presentation also allows for the expression status differentials via the same channels. For example, the body language used by the interviewee is likely to be subordinate to that used by the interviewer (Kando, 1977). Presentation enables us to define human interaction in terms of certain fundamental properties of social relationships (Danziger, 1976).
The second role outlined by Danziger is that of ‘address’. When individuals wish to communicate with one another, it is important to specify for whom the message is intended. This is done via nonverbal cues such as emblems (Kendon, 1981), bodily movements, spatial behaviour and so on. Danziger argued that the forms of address confer particular social identities on the interactants.
The final category discussed by Danziger (1976) was that of ‘feedback’. Danziger believed that nonverbal communication provides unspoken feedback, which is essential for effective communication and which is necessary for the ongoing of any interaction. Nonverbal communication is the only way an individual is able to regulate their performance in a social setting and make any necessary adjustments. For example, when a lecturer attempts to give an explanation to a room full of students, the only way they can ascertain the students’ level of understanding is to watch for nonverbal cues. A nod and a smile provides enough information for the lecturer to know that they can continue, as the information has been understood. Whereas a room full of frowns will convey that more explanation is needed and the lecturer can act accordingly. This...