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Essay on Non-verbal Communication: Annotated Bibliography

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Annotated Bibliography

My area of interest is nonverbal communication within different cultural context because I’m from a different culture, and I frequently find myself comparing communication styles with the people around me and assuming their actions could correspond to negative aspects, based solely on the knowledge of my own culture. Nonverbal is a universal thing as it is a part of the act of communication. However, the meanings vary from culture to culture, for instance, the meaning of eye contact varies from being seen as a sign of respect to a sign of disrespect, depending on the cultural contexts.

Nonverbal communication is defined as the nonverbal messages that are consciously or unconsciously encoded and decoded through means such as body movement and facial expressions (kinesics), space between the people communicating (proxemics), touch (haptics), conception of time (chronemics), and even the use of silence. I chose this topic and these five sources because other than appreciating learning about different cultures as a hobby, I also have many international friends and I often times, unconsciously, analyze their behaviors and how they might contrast with mine. On a broader scale, I analyze and compare all our behaviors and cultures to the American one. From this research, I hope to be able to recognize and understand the meaning behind nonverbal communication within different cultures so I can be more mindful of my own behaviors around people from different cultures and learn not to stereotype the ones that have different communication styles from mine.


Bello, R. S., Brandau-Brown, F. E., Zhang, S., & Ragsdale, J. D. (2010). Verbal and nonverbal methods for expressing appreciation in friendships and romantic relationships: A cross-cultural comparison. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 34(3), 294–302. doi: 10.1016/j.ijintrel.2010.02.007

Globalization has increased intercultural interaction and knowing what is considered acceptable in other cultures can be beneficial to this interaction, be it a friendship or romantic a relationship. One way we can maintain our relationships healthy is by expressing appreciation by helping others, offering favors in return, or being encouraging and supportive. This appreciation can vary from verbal to nonverbal communication depending on the culture which is being addressed. In western cultures, such as the American culture, appreciation is demanded to be verbally expressed. The person who fails to support others, or spend time with them is seen as rude and disrespectful and can be called out for not expressing their appreciation. In holistic cultures, such as the Chinese culture, favors done for them by other people are expected because it’s a sign of harmony and collectivism; therefore, appreciation is expressed without being said, through nonverbal communication.

I found it interesting that the journal states the difference in expression of appreciation in individualist and collectivist and low and high-context cultures. Where individualist, low-context cultures express appreciation verbally as a “sort of score-keeping”. Meaning that if someone were to do something for their friend and they didn’t say “thank you”, this someone might not do it next time. This is why it’s important to understand the meaning of nonverbal communication in different cultures for this friend can be Chinese and bow instead of verbally say “thank you” as a way to express appreciation. Other nonverbal ways to communicate appreciation are: giving out hugs, cooking for them, paying attention to people when they’re talking, and even praying for them.

Chang, Y. (Y. (2015). Cultural Norms and Nonverbal Communication: An Illustration. Communication Teacher, 29(4), 191–195. doi: 10.1080/17404622.2015.1057749

This journal guides us through how cultural norms are rules that govern our behaviors and lives and determine what we consider correct and incorrect to do. We learn these rules from when we’re a child by observing them through verbal, but mostly nonverbal communication. These norms are measured by two factors: consensus and intensity. According to the journal, consensus represents the number of people within a culture that agree upon a specific norm, whereas intensity represents how much these people care about that specific norm. And the more people care about it, the greater the punishment will be, for example, if people in a certain culture, and a certain time, disapprove the fact that men can have too much contact between them, for this can be labeled as them being gay, as it is shown in the scenes from the TV show “Friends.”

I acknowledge with the reading of this journal, that the approval of touch, or any other nonverbal communication varies not only from time to time but also from culture to culture. For example, people in the Saudi Arabia don’t approve the LGBT community; therefore, their members face legal charges if they are to be caught. This situation changes when it concerns the American culture, especially now a days, for its promotion of approval and encouragement among the members of the LGBT community. Therefore, cultural norms are the sum of nonverbal communication we should abide by, in order to live within what is acceptable in our culture and provides order within it.

Cruz, W. (2001). Differences In Nonverbal Communication Styles between Cultures: The Latino-Anglo Perspective. Leadership and Management in Engineering, 1(4), 51–53. doi: 10.1061/(asce)1532-6748(2001)1:4(51)

In this journal, the author presents the difference in nonverbal communication between the Latino and the Anglo cultures. These differences in culture are due to race, gender, geography, socioeconomic and historical influences. The Latinos, when it comes to proxemics, which refers to personal space, stand much closer to each other than Europeans (8-18 inch vs. 18-33 inch). Anglos may think of Latinos as being too invasive in their personal space or misinterpret their proximity as a sexual message. On the other hand, Latinos can misperceive Anglos’ need for distance as cold, uninterested, or even discriminatory. When it comes to kinesics, body movements, gestures, or facial expressions, Latinos have peculiar behaviors that Anglos don’t understand because it doesn’t exist in their culture. For example, Latinos will point with puckered lips as a way of nonverbally communicating “there,” “that one over there,” or “him or her”, as the author states.

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It’s interesting to read about this especially because I come from a culture when we are very touchy with each other, for example, we greet everyone with two kisses on the cheek and a hug. So, when I first got here to the U.S. I would try to greet people with kisses on the cheek but they would often take a step back because they’re not comfortable nor are they used to greeting strangers like this and think I’m invading their personal space. Another aspect about the haptics that differs my culture, which is similar to the Latino culture, from the American is the fact that we feel comfortable touching people to take something off their clothes, for example, whereas people here have the mentality that “if I don’t touch them, then they won’t touch me”.

Niedenthal, P. M., Rychlowska, M., & Wood, A. (2017). Feelings and contexts: socioecological influences on the nonverbal expression of emotion. Current Opinion in Psychology, 17, 170–175. doi: 10.1016/j.copsyc.2017.07.025

Emotions such as happiness, sadness, fear, disgust, surprise and anger are supposedly universally acknowledged, but after reading this journal I found that that isn’t the truth, since in Papua Guinea people interpret the facial expression of fear as a representation of anger. Emotions are expressed differently in western (mostly individualist cultures) and holistic (mostly collectivist cultures) countries, mainly because of the factors that influence individual’s behavior within certain cultures; therefore, producing distinct cultures of emotion expression, as it’s stated. These factors range from historical to economical. Smiles and other emotions are shown more openly and frequently in western countries than in the eastern ones. This is, not only because within collectivist cultures showing strong emotions would indulge in individualism. But also, because they are homogeneous countries, meaning that everyone already feels like they belong in the culture and don’t feel the obligation to make other feel welcomed. The opposite happens in western countries, which are heterogeneity, the diversity due to migration requires that all are friendly and welcoming towards each other.

The meaning behind kinesics, as I can conclude, isn’t universalizable, especially smiling. In countries like Germany, a person who smiles a lot can be interpreted as vague, and less intelligent, whereas a person who barely smiles is seen as responsible, and intelligent. I experience this first hand for I have a friend who is from Germany. Many see him as a very serious person who doesn’t know how to joke around, but in reality, it’s just his culture. In my culture, which resembles the Latino Culture, sees a person who smiles a lot as someone who is friendly and approachable. This is why people smile a lot more in western cultures than in the eastern ones.

Singh, N. N., McKay, J. D., & Singh, A. N. (1998). Culture and Mental Health: Nonverbal Communication. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 7(4), 404–409. Retrieved from

As the authors of this journal point out, culture is a concept that is constantly changing because it’s socially constructed by the individuals of a certain generation within a certain community that can emphasize on explicit verbal communication when defining rules (low-context cultures) or on nonverbal communication to define social norms (high-context cultures). People in high-context cultures listen more than they talk, and they do it with their eyes rather than with their ears, as the authors state, as they notice not only your verbal expression but also your body language. For this reason, high-context cultures think people from low-context cultures talk too much and these think the people from high-context cultures are quiet, and insensitive. We can see how hard it is for professionals (advisors, professors, doctors) when they have communicating with people from different culture about their mental health because not only do they must understand that meanings of words and gestures aren’t universal, but they also must internalize the fact that we can never fully understand the meaning of words and actions of a culture different than theirs because they’re not a part of it.

I see this happen a lot when international students are dealing with mental troubles and their counselors or advisers can’t help them because they can misinterpret student’s based on judgements that are rooted in their own culture system. Thus, the importance of the need for a culturally diverse professional base in every area, especially in the education department, in order for students to feel more of a sense of belonging in their campus; consequentially, preventing mental troubles that can come up during the phase of adaptation.

Throughout this research, I’ve come to internalize that even though nonverbal communication is found in every culture, the meaning of these vary from culture to culture and from generation to generation. Nonverbal communication is more convincing and difficult to manipulate, it carries greater impact than verbal communication, especially when revealing emotions, and is intrinsic to human biology and evolution. This is why it conveys, in some cultures, two thirds or more of the meaning people are trying to send when communicate.

The expression of appreciation and feelings in relationships, cultural norms, proxemics, haptics, kinesics, and dealing with mental health are influenced by whether a culture is high or low-context, heterogeneous or homogeneous, or individualist or collectivist. As cultures that are heterogeneous, which usually are of low-context and individualist, find it more acceptable to explicitly express their appreciation, feelings and thoughts verbally. This is because they are trying to make members of other ethnicities feel welcomed within society, emphasizing their individualism within it. On the other hand, homogeneous cultures, which usually are high-context and collectivist cultures, find it harder to express feelings, appreciation, or even talk about mental health because that would make people focus on their individual feelings and how it makes each person feel better about it. Furthermore, in collectivist cultures, favors are seen as normal; therefore, expressing appreciation is seen as unnecessary. If anything, they would be expressed through nonverbal communication, for example bowing, or cooking for someone.

Acknowledging the existence of these differences doesn’t necessarily mean we understand the meaning of nonverbal communication used in cultures different than ours, but it decreases the likelihood of misunderstanding, stereotyping, discrimination, and confusion among people of different cultures. Thus, allowing everyone to feel respected and heard.

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