Why Mehrabain’s Research on Nonverbal Communication and the Meaning of the Message is as Quoted is Inaccurate

I believe that understanding and reading body language is a profoundly useful method for us to read the hearts of others. There is a world of meaning in our nonverbal communication from a glance, a gesture, a tone of voice and more.  But, I am I would like to debunk the myth that 55% of communication is nonverbal.  How many times have you seen the inaccurate statistics about nonverbal communication by Albert Mehrabian saying that the meaning of a message is communicated:
  •  7%   by your words
  •  38% by you tone of voice
  •  55%. by your body language
This interpretation of Mehrabian has been debunked many times, but still it persists.  Let’s talk what is true about the experiments by Mehrabian. And what his research looked like.
The research subject heard one word said different ways and was able to detect different meanings. Yes, that’s right, the subjects heard only one word and were asked what meaning was communicated!
First, what is true about the meaning being communicated nonverbally?  The meaning of the message can be changed by its nonverbal delivery. Take for example how someone says a particular word or words like “love”, “hate” or “my boss” in a sentence.  What someone really intends to communicate can vary depending on their tone of voice, how their inflection rises and falls or how they stress certain words.  That is their paralanguage changes. Writer Clella Jaffe gives an example "A movie character is accused of shooting a clerk in a convenience store. When the sheriff asks, "Why did you shoot the clerk?" the suspect responds, "I shot the clerk?"(pause)" I shot the clerk?" At the trial, the sheriff testifies that the accused confessed twice, clearly saying "I shot the clerk." The sheriff says the statement as if it were factual, whereas the suspect's rising voice inflection and stressed words indicates that he's asking a question-drastically changing the meaning of the literal words".
Mehrabian’s experiments
The Mehrabian formula comes from two studies in nonverbal communication carried out by Mehrabian and two colleagues in 1967.  That’s correct people are quoting research from over 40 years ago. There is no current research that replicated this particular finding. Twenty years later in my Masters and Doctoral Program in nonverbal communication our textbooks still quoted this research and we talked about its inaccurate referencing. We are still quoting it and we are still using it and debating it today.
To summarize, Mehrabian’s studies asked participants to judge the feelings of a speaker by listening to a recording of a single word spoken in different tones of voice.
In the first study, the participants had to rate the feelings of the speaker after listening to each of nine different words. Each word spoken separately rather than in a sentence with context.  The words spoken were often inconsistent with the tone of voice used. For example, the word “brute” spoken in a positive tone. Each time they had to make a rating just on the single word they had listened to.
In the second study, only one word was used. It was chosen to be as neutral as possible: the word was “maybe.” They listened to a recording of the word “maybe” said in different tones and at the same time were shown photos of different facial expressions.
It’s from these experiments that Mehrabian suggested – but did not prove – the formula.
The limitations of Mehrabian’s formula
Mehrabian has himself attempted to limit the application of this formula:
Please note that this and other equations regarding relative importance of verbal and nonverbal messages were derived from experiments dealing with communications of feelings and attitudes (i.e., like-dislike). Unless a communicator is talking about their feelings or attitudes, these equations are not applicable.
So if we limit the formula to the specific conditions of the experiments, it is only applicable if:
  • a speaker is using only one word,
  • their tone of voice is inconsistent with the meaning of the word, and
  • the judgment being made is about the feelings of the speaker.
What do other researchers say?
Mehrabian’s findings were frequently discussed in the psychological literature on nonverbal communication through the 1970s and 1980s. Researchers have made the following critiques of the methodology of his studies:
  1. They only used two or three people to do the speaking for the experiments.
  2. They take no account of the extent to which the speakers could produce the required tone of voice.
  3. They were artificial situations with no context.
  4. The communication model on which they were based, has now been shown to be too simple.
  5. They take no account of the characteristics of the observers making the judgments.
  6. The purpose of the experiments was not hidden from the participants.

For more detail on these critiques go to Mehrabian’s studies in nonverbal communication and once you are there scroll down to the findings. 

Patti Wood, MA, Certified Speaking Professional - The Body Language Expert. For more body language insights go to her website at www.PattiWood.net. Check out Patti's website for her new book "SNAP, Making the Most of First Impressions, Body Language and Charisma" at www.snapfirstimpressions.com. Also check out Patti's YouTube channel at http://youtube.com/user/bodylanguageexpert.

Patti's Recent Book was Mentioned in the Wall Street Journal as a Resource to Help Improve the Growing Need to Improve Likability in the Workplace


The Wall Street Journal columnist, Sue Shellenbarger, when asked for additional resources to help improve the growing need to improve likability in the workplace she suggested Patti's recent book, SNAP - Making the Most of First Impressions, Body Language and Charisma. 


Patti Wood, MA, Certified Speaking Professional - The Body Language Expert. For more body language insights go to her website at www.PattiWood.net. Check out Patti's website for her new book "SNAP, Making the Most of First Impressions, Body Language and Charisma" at www.snapfirstimpressions.com. Also check out Patti's YouTube channel at http://youtube.com/user/bodylanguageexpert.

Pistorius body language and paralanguage, crying and stonefaced nonverbal cues durring his trial for possibly murdering his girlfriend:


 What I find interesting in Pistorius body language and paralanguage  is the shift from his normally very charismatic body language with a very mobile expressive face and lots of movement to the following nonverbal cues in this trial for murdering his girlfriend:

·        Stone faced  when most people would be showing sadness, loss. (remember he is normally very expressive, his face moves! When listening the testimony before his questioning he seems focused cool and calm till his "breakdown."

·         Frozen in place body language, posture ridged when most people would show grief or stress– an indication does not feel the appropriate emotions or feels  the need to hide his true emotion.  To be clear the timing of his stiff frozen body language is not the not freeze in  place body language from fear. In fact he expresses freely when he is defending himself, but when he should be showing grief he freezes.

·        Steely long gazes of hate at the prosecuting attorney, that allows you to see how his anger could have caused a murderous rage.

·        Paralanguage  strong and faced paced (vocal cues)  as his argues with the prosecuting attorney that rarely shows any grief or distress but ,instead is fast paced within each sentence  and at times strong and argumentative responses and explanations to the prosecuting attorney.  If you just LISTEN to him being questioned by the prosecuting attorney and pay no attention to the words you would think that a teenager was having an argument with his father.  When he is questioned at one point he says with his words, "didn't have time to think." but his explanations for his behavior before and after he makes that statement seem specific and concrete, details coming from his rational neocortex. He remembers so many tiny actions and does not miss sharing any of them as he responds to tough questions. He is fighting in this trail, and he fights with details.
 

·        At times fake overly dramatic crying. Sadly, I am experienced, because of my work as a body language expert  to distinguish how people  cry in true grief in a multitude of circumstances. People tend to move and shift as they cry publicly (often in the primitive emotional brains attempt to get  the horror out and away from the body) You may seem to see the waves of grief wash through them again and again. Sometimes they curl up in a protective snail like posture.  They may shake when they cry.  If they put their hand to their face it is typically a hand trying to wipe the tears, symbolically whipping away the grief. Or to holding both hands over the face and pressing in to hold in the grief or letting the grief escape out and overwhelm them. What they don’ typically do is what  Pistorius does when he cry’s. They don’t  make themselves bigger that is what we do when we feel confident.  They would be more likely in this setting to make their grief intimate and private as they connect with their lost loved one as their grieve.  You may see dramatic movements in someone grieving a loved one  in  the moments right after the bad news or when surrounded by family more likely in parents and female spouses . Pistorius tears are acted they are not motivated from true grief or lost.

·        Pistorius bent over crying. First he moves first in a  big and dramatic ways  in his crying jag but, he  cannot sustain it in its natural wave flow or real grief.  Instead he bend over and holds still  hidden  as he cry. The sound of grief crying tends to come in waves that fade and build not just build then stop.  I hate that I know that, but yes there is a difference. I don't like seeing someone fake cry and not say he is sorry over and over again.
 
       No so sorry. People who are truly sorry often repeat the sorry two or three times in a row each apology with emotion often in waves of emotion. So it may sound like this. I am so story. I am so, (breaking voice) so sorry. (gulp in) so sorry (sorry fades out)

 
Anyone may change how they feel and act when under trial for murdering their girlfriend. But typically the baseline personality and aspects of movement even when even considering grief and fear have similarities to their true self.  And there is a second baseline I use when reading people under stress. That is the baseline of what is normal for anyone under this particular stress


Patti Wood, MA, Certified Speaking Professional - The Body Language Expert. For more body language insights go to her website at www.PattiWood.net. Check out Patti's website for her new book "SNAP, Making the Most of First Impressions, Body Language and Charisma" at www.snapfirstimpressions.com. Also check out Patti's YouTube channel at http://youtube.com/user/bodylanguageexpert.

The Unspoken Language of Complaint Management

 “We want someone else to feel our pain,” says Wood, who trains call center agents on “mirroring and matching” techniques that let a customer know the agent empathizes with them.

http://www.customerexpressions.com/blog/customer-service/unspoken-language-complaint-management/

Patti Wood, MA, Certified Speaking Professional - The Body Language Expert. For more body language insights go to her website at www.PattiWood.net. Check out Patti's website for her new book "SNAP, Making the Most of First Impressions, Body Language and Charisma" at www.snapfirstimpressions.com. Also check out Patti's YouTube channel at http://youtube.com/user/bodylanguageexpert.

Closer Than Ever



Patti observed that Anne Hathaway turned completely away from Adam Shulman during a May 2009 outing in NYC.  This couple seemed to be disconnected.  Patti also noticed that Anne seemed to be giving herself a protective hug.  After marriage during a blissful Miami Beach outing this couple was more in sync and they were very playful and sexual.  They were both leaning into each other.  This couple gets a 4 1/2 on the Life & Style True Love Rating scale.


Patti Wood, MA, Certified Speaking Professional - The Body Language Expert. For more body language insights go to her website at www.PattiWood.net. Check out Patti's website for her new book "SNAP, Making the Most of First Impressions, Body Language and Charisma" at www.snapfirstimpressions.com. Also check out Patti's YouTube channel at http://youtube.com/user/bodylanguageexpert.