Everywhere we look, individuals use body language and non-verbal signals. We've seen evidence of politicians and the media using signals to improve their veracity (or the contrary), but non-verbal clues have even been studied by anthropologists as a way to recognize subtleties of communication. In fact, anthropologist Ray Birdswhistell found that most humans can recognize over 250,000 facial expressions that impart meaning (Pease 2006, 10).
Sources of Nonverbal Communication- Psychologists believe that nonverbal communication is both part of individual behavior and the result of that behavior. The environment plays a huge part in how we as individuals "feel" and therefore express ourselves. The difference, say, between a well lit hotel atrium with classical music playing, numerous plants, and earth tones vs. A dark and dingy hallway in a public building will certainly provide different nonverbal impetus. In addition, the following are part of the entire nonvernal universe:
Physical Characteristics and Appearance
Body type, height, weight, skin color all communicates messages. Examples include casting for a play or movie, looking like a CEO, an impression of who is smart, etc.
Long history of using facial appearances to predict behavior, identify criminal tendencies, etc.
Send conscious and unconscious messages (cologne), sexual availability, etc.
Jewelry, clothes, classes, accouterments
Space (personal and otherwise) during interaction
Body posture; for instance a person in a job interview tends to sit up straight and look at the interviewer; sitting slumped and looking around sends a message of negativity
Thumbs up, down, the O.K. sign etc.
Cultural and meaningful gestures; illustrators, and manipulators
Culturally rule-bound as well, but emphasizes behaviors
Staring/gazing, pupil dilation, eye movement
Pitch, tone, pauses, "It is not what you say, but how you say it."
(Sources: Morris 1986; Schwebel 2002).
Nonverbal Comunication and the Professional Interview -- Experts not that nonverbal communication is as important as what answers may be given during a professional interview. In any situation in which one is being judged in competition by another the nonverbal clues must be practiced and assured, else they may give away feelings of nervousness or a lack of competence on a particular question. Studies have been done in which several factors have been tested and the following suggestions made that will nonverbally enhance an interviewing situation:
Understand the message one wants to send nonverbally; interest, competence, professional distance, etc.
Posture -- sitting either straight up at the back of the chair, legs uncrossed; or leaning slightly forward to engender interest.
Eye contact -- concentrate on a spot in the middle of the interviewer's forehead, try not to look around at the desk, walls, books, artwork, etc.
Dress -- very dependent upon the type of job; the type of firm, and the position. Typically, better to be more conervative with a touch (e.g. tie, stockings, jewelry, etc.) of the avante garde.
Grooming, etc. -- avoid heavy cologne scents, heavy floral notes; best to understate
Gestures -- try to avoid large or sweeping gestures, emphasis can be done using a pen or pencil
Tone of voice -- pause a bit prior to answering a question, ensure grammar is correct, but try not to sound like giving a canned response (Hiemstra 1999; Miller 2006; B. Pease 2006).
Humans are constantly making decisions about the messages received; and the nonverbal portions of these communications are incredibly powerful and robust.Nonverbal communication affects almost every aspect of daily interpersonal encounters; first dates, job interviews, doctor visits, advertising, work and school. Because these messages are so powerful and pervasive, it is important to understand what messages are being given and received. The better one is at both receiving (interpreting) and executing nonverbal communication, the more chance one will have of being understood completely. We should remember an ancient Confucian saying, "one can better understand others by looking into their eyes than by listening to their words."
Dress as Expression -- Now that we have a background in the way non-verbal signals work, we turn to the way that signals from dress emphasize, or de-emphasize, personality traits that may or may not be accurate. The manner in which children and young people dress is part of the socialization process from their own internal culture, their upbringing, and their own understanding of their individuality. If we think about the contemporary world, children and adolescents become culturally socialized with appearance and dress within several linear paradigms: family, school, work, fun, etc. Much of this socialization is peer related, but influenced heavily by the media and "trends" children see on television, social networking sites, and movies. Often, this puts children of lower economic status at a disadvantage, because the "right" clothes, the "right" look can be cost prohibitive. To counter this, we find an entirely new argument, not completely germane to our argument here, of elementary and middle school children being required to wear uniforms. This requirement is designed, in theory, to allow for a more egalitarian approach to dressing for school, allowing students to be perceived less individually and more communally, and to ensure that clothing and appearance are not overly weighted factors within the classroom (Workman and Studak, 2008). Additionally research shows that, particularly in heavily diverse schools, educators support the use of uniforms because they reduce the rsik of both psychological harm (comparisons, etc.) and other school related issues (gang markings, too much sexuality, teacher perceptions). The older the student, the less likely, however, they are in agreeing to wear uniforms or to generalize their appearance (Alleyne, 2003).
What students wear, how they wear their hair, which glasses they choose, all are part of their own burgeoning self-expression. Many experts see that this self-expression is an important part of child development and that the time spent in school (approximately 35-40 hours per week) is large enough that public education should foster, not limit, the idea of celebrating diversity. These same studies acknowledge that while students do not always make the best choices when opting for certain modes of appearance, it is also the responsibility of the school to prepare children for life in the real world, where they will continue to be judged by appearance (Dress Codes - Pros and Cons, 2004). This is actually the crux of the matter -- how does the world, and how do teachers specifically, use clothing and appearance to make qualitative judgements about students, particularly their abilities and achievement level, through clothing and appearance.
Perceptions Surrounding Dress and Appearance- There is absolutely no doubt that choices in personal appearance communicate certain bits of information to the world. Clothing as communication is historical, it sends messages of economic status, interest level, conformity, and even intelligence and ability. One "expects" a student neatly coiffed with pressed khaki pants, a button down shirt, and loafers to be not only studious, but a potential leader and excellent student. Conversely, a student with dreadlocks, several piercings, jeans with numerous holes, and radical t-shirts or jewelry is perceived to be antisocial, to lack conformity, to be rebellious and disrespectful (Damhorst, 1990).
Within the research, several types of appearance structures are addressed. The sociobiological perspective, for instance, predicts that a relationship exsits interculturally between what people perceive as facial attractivness or its opposite predictive of behavior and intelligence. This is not as modern as it sounds; evolutionarily, people with the most attractive features appeared to be better genetic material for mating, and passing on that genetic map. Perceived unattractiveness, whether that be from any sort of disfigurement at one extreme or piercings, colorations, etc. On the other perspective has a strong biological perpensity towards different. This can be illustrated as follows (Jackson, 1992):
This same research shows that although the face is usually the first thinkg noticed, and is extremely strong as a perceptual predictor, body attractiveness, hygeine, taste and appropriateness all also have strong consequences, particularly for females. Depending on the culture in question (values), we find that there are a number of predictors involved in assessing both the quality of the person as a mate (socio-biology) and their inate ability to positively impact society at large. Each of these perceptors certainly vary by individual, as well as by chronology (for instance, in 1965 an elementary student would have been sent home for wearing a Mohawk and having multiple piercings; in some areas that form of dress and expression is commonplace):
Shape, eyes, skin tone, nose, mouth
In modern culture this is generally non-blemished skin of all tones; high cheekbones, wide mouth, roundish eyes
Culturally relevant; more acceptable in some than others, tends to be more of a primitive or anti-social indicator.
Light piercings acceptable, heavy or multiple piercings, or piercings that are reddish around the skin are seens as anti-social