Gender And Nonverbal Communication Essay Research Paper

Gender And Nonverbal Communication Essay, Research Paper


Gender and Nonverbal Communication:

An Empirical Study

Christine Creaney

Psychology 235, Psychology of Gender

Dr. Michael McGuire

November 30, 2000

Gender and Nonverbal Communication:

An Empirical study

Nonverbal communication is a very large part of human communication behavior. The types of nonverbal communication can range from a simple smile to an obvious avoidance of eye contact, but each behavior carries a direct message that can be understood by all the individuals in a public communication situation. Nonverbal communication, for use in this analysis, is defined by Canary and Dindia (1998) as the form of communication that does not include words; messages expressed by nonlinguistic means, people s actions or attributes, including their use of objects, sounds, time and space, that have socially shared significance and stimulate meaning in others (Canary &Dindia, 1998). Through my own observation of a public communication situation, a set of rules for nonverbal communication for that situation was determined, yet it varied according to age and gender.

Nonverbal communication rules may differ according to the situation. An individual s actions are different when riding on the subway than their actions when getting acquainted at the local pub. Actions when riding in an elevator may be perceived very differently when doing business at a post office. This analysis does not assume or argue that the rules for nonverbal communication are the same for every public communication situation. Rather, each situation has its own set of rules for nonverbal behavior, and the observation and experience of each situation determines its set of rules. I will prove in this study that gender and age appear to be highly related to the kinds of nonverbal communications shared between humans.



A public communication situation occurs in a carryout restaurant every day. My own observations and set of rules for a public communication situation were developed in such an establishment. The restaurant was located in a rural suburb community of Detroit. The patrons of the restaurant I observed were mostly of Caucasian descent. The area the restaurant is located in contains mostly middle to lower class families. This identical atmosphere may have affected the rules for behavior. Observations were of the customers, and distinctive patterns were very noticeable.


Actions and behaviors of the patrons were observed directly. Different types of patrons had very different yet distinct sets of nonverbal communication behaviors. For the purpose of this analysis, patrons were split into four groups, each having separate behaviors in the situation. The four groups (approximated ages) were as follows; males aged fifteen to thirty, females aged fifteen to thirty, males over thirty, and females over thirty. It is important to examine each group separately to determine the differences that age and gender play in nonverbal behavior rules.


Males ranging in age from fifteen to thirty were the first group examined. Nearly all the subjects in this group projected the same nonverbal behavior when ordering and waiting for their order in the restaurant. The subjects body language was the first noticeable nonverbal behavior. Hand movement was minimal, as most of the subjects kept their hands in their pockets. Although the hand movement was minimal, the subjects had a tendency to have very fluid leg movement. The subjects legs were always in motion, either shifting weight from side to side, or rapidly shaking one leg when seated. When not engaged in verbal conversation, eye movement tended to look directly at the ground or at the hanging menu. It was an obvious attempt to avoid eye contact with other patrons in the room.

The need for personal space was the next noticeable behavior. Subjects in this group desired more personal space than any other group observed, as they would move to the position inside the establishment with the most available space. Sometimes subjects would even wait outside rather than have their personal space intruded upon. This group also made minimal eye contact in communication. When interacting with employees in the ordering process this group would move their eyes as much as possible with out making direct eye contact. This group tended to dress very casual, and also used very little facial expression. Women of the same age range portrayed a very different set of behaviors in the situation.

Women between the ages of fifteen and thirty displayed similar patterns as each other. The women used different body language from the males in the same age range. Hand movement was more noticeable in the women as they tended to interlock their fingers or place their hands on accessories such as purses or keys. Also the women much straighter posture then the men. Leg movement in the women was very minimal, as they had a tendency to stand still or sit with their legs crossed. Another emerging difference was in eye movement. When the women were not engaged in verbal communication, their eyes tended to wander the room as they looked to engage in direct eye contact with other persons in the area. Most of the women in the room also had a slight smile.

In the process of ordering, the women made direct eye contact with their communication partners. Again, a smile was present through out most of the ordering process. The need for personal space was much less prevalent in the women. The women had a tendency to sit close to other individuals rather than find an area that provided them with more space. Another difference was the women s ability to engage in conversation when waiting, rather than waiting silently like the men. This was seen in their attempts at eye contact, as other individuals in the room received direct attention. The women seemed much more comfortable in the situation as a whole.

Males over the age of thirty were the next group examined. This group had similarities with their younger gender partners, yet they also had distinct differences. The men over the age of thirty also had minimal hand movement as they too kept their hands mostly in their pockets. Leg movement was the first noticeable difference between the men over thirty and the younger men. In the elder generation leg movement was minimal. The men had a tendency to stand with better posture and had much less side-to-side weight shifting. In addition, the men over thirty had a little more eye contact than the younger men. The eye contact was still less direct than women of the younger age group, but it was more noticeable than the men.

When engaged in verbal communication the older men had very direct eye contact with their communicated partners. The men over thirty did not attempt to engage conversation with others, but when engaged they maintained very direct eye contact. The men did have other similarities to the younger age group. The need for personal space was very important, as men would move to the position with the most available space. Like the younger men, if the room appeared crowded they would go outside to have more personal space. The men s dress was also similar to the younger group, as it was comfortable and darker colors. The only difference being the older men s attire was less adorned with labels. The group had little facial expressions, and appeared to be hungrier than any other group as the food seemed most important to this group.

Women over thirty were perhaps the most interesting group to observe as a whole. This group demanded the most attention through their nonverbal behavior, and was very vocal in their communicative style. The women had small amounts of hand movement, usually clutching purses, accessories, or even children. The leg movement was also minimal, with the occasional chasing of a child across the room. The posture of the women tended to be straight and fairly rigid. The women had very little use for personal space. If they weren t clutching a child close to them, the women were sitting next to other people and making eye contact to engage conversation.

Eye contact and movement was very noticeable in this group. Eyes scanned the room almost picking up every detail, and also were used to engage in conversation. Of all the groups, this group in particular was constantly engaging in conversation with others in the room, and it was conversation that could be heard through out the room. The group had direct and constant eye contact with the employees in the ordering process, almost forcing the employee to look away at times in intimidation. The women s dress was comfortable, and much like that of the men aged fifteen to thirty, adorned with labels and less bright colors than the younger women. Facial expressions were abundant in the women of more experience, as they smiled, frowned jokingly to employees, raised eyebrows in conversations and winked at children. Overall, these women showed the most nonverbal behavior of all the groups, and combined a little from each group to develop the largest set of rules for behavior in the situation.

Tables and Figures:

Figure 1 Chart on Hand Movement

Figure 2 Chart on Leg Movement

Figure 3 Chart on Eye Contact

Figure 4 Chart on Personal Space Required

Figure 5 Chart on Amount of Facial Expression

Figure 6 Chart on Type of Dress


Each group exhibited different behaviors that could be categorized as establishing very different sets of rules for behaviors and also displayed very different attitudes in a similar situation. But they did have some things in common. All the groups allowed for someone to vary behaviors a great deal before it was considered breaking the rules. For example, for the women over thirty, anything would be considered normal to the point of physically reprimanding a child in public. The other groups were also very tolerant to vary behavior to a degree, as long as it did not deliberately go against the displayed attitude. Also the consequences of rule breaking were similar for the groups, according to gender. Men knew the feeling of being uncomfortable if someone of the same gender were to engage in meaningless conversation. Women knew that it would be inappropriate for women over thirty to dress much like the younger half of the women fifteen to thirty. The consequence of such an action would be everyone in the situation to draw negative attention towards that individual. Finally, all the groups allow for the communication of interpersonal messages in this situation. It is most easily done in communication that would occur across gender lines, but in similar age groups. It would be easier for a woman and man to communicate interpersonal messages if they were in the same age range. Otherwise, it would be difficult to communicate such messages.

One thing was very evident in the observations of this situation. that gender and age appear to be highly related to the kinds of nonverbal communications shared between humans. Where as women may see the opportunity to interact, the men are more interested in getting their food. Younger men may look to avoid conflict, when older men realize they are too hungry to worry about conflict, and they will communicate a little to get a good meal. This situation displayed a very distinct difference in the acceptance of nonverbal behaviors according to gender, age, and even the situation.


Canary, D. J. & Dindia K. (1998). Sex Differences and Similarities in Communication.

New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Leathers, Dale G. (1976). Nonverbal Communication Systems. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, Inc.

Mayo, PhD., C & Henley, PhD., N.M. (1981). Gender and Nonverbal Behavior. New York:

Spinger-Verlag New York, Inc.

Mehrabian, Albert. (1971). Silent Messages. Belmont, California: Wadsworth Publishing



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