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Discuss the Role Non Verbal Communication Plays in the Facilitation of Social Interaction and the Consequences of Its Absence on Social Relationships

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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 example shows the importance of nonverbal communication in everyday, social life as without it the lecturer would have to rely on verbal feedback, which would be confusing and time consuming when a large number of students are present.

Hartley (1999) had differing views on the role of nonverbal communication. He argued that 'representation' was also a key function in that nonverbal communication allows a channel for individuals to pass on points of view and differing perceptions and is a vital medium of information. This idea is supported by Krauss et al (1995) who studied hand gestures to determine if they help increase understanding. The results of this study show that communication understanding accuracy was better than chance when hand gestures were present.

'Presentation' also appears in Hartley's (1999) definitions, but he argued that this category should also include the facilitation of how individuals wish to be perceived. For example, it is possible to give a message to others of personal confidence via the use of body posturing, clothing and eye contact.

Palmer and Simmons (1995) argue that to conduct successful interpersonal relationships the ability to give and interpret nonverbal cues is of paramount importance because social constraints often hinder explicit verbal messages. If this statement is taken as fact, then what happens if an individual lacks such ability? This question can be tackled by looking at studies on individuals who have adequate verbal abilities but lack the ability to communicate nonverbally as the majority of society deems normal.

Hobson (1997) argued that every human is born with a biologically based capacity for the perception of, and empathic responsiveness to, the bodily expressed feelings and attitudes of others. An exception to this rule can be found when looking at mental disorders. Bormann-Kischkel et al (1995) studied autistic infants and found that they appear to lack the basic components of emotional reactivity, which appear in normally developing infants within the first few months of life. Sorce et al (1985) noted that such a lack could interfere with the child's ability to learn via observing the caregiver's nonverbal cues for danger and passivity.

The parents of autistic children frequently report a lack of nonverbal communication basics very early on in development. Skills such as eye contact and facial expressiveness appear to be omitted (Farran and Kasari, 1990). Dunn (1995) further described autistic individuals as lacking almost all prosocial nonverbal behaviours as children, including giving, sharing, helping, offering comfort, offering affection, greeting others and responding to humour. Similarly, Lord (1997) noted that all the behaviour which best identify autistic children at the age of two involve communication of affect: greeting, seeking to share enjoyment of an event and responding to others indications of enjoyment. The conations of this are that autistic children, and adults, appear to be very insular members of society. As adults, persons with autism seem to not understand the social requirements of human interchange, even if they possess good verbal abilities, they find it difficult to interact on a spontaneous basis with others (Shapiro and Hertzig, 1991). Due to the lack of understanding and formation of nonverbal communication amongst autism sufferers, the building of social relationships is challenging, as, although they can communicate verbally, their body language cannot be deciphered by others which promotes an overall feeling of discomfort in those who are not close to the sufferer (Shapiro and Hertzig, 1991).

To conclude, nonverbal communication is an interacting process which involves

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