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  • Print publication year: 2000
  • Online publication date: January 2010

5 - Gender differences in nonverbal communication of emotion


There is a large accumulation of research on gender differences in nonverbal communication. By nonverbal communication we mean specific behaviors such as smiling or gazing, as well as accuracy in nonverbal communication. Summaries of these gender differences are available (Hall, 1978, 1984, 1987; LaFrance & Hecht, this volume; Vrugt & Kerkstra, 1984). The present chapter is also concerned with gender and nonverbal communication, but differs from earlier treatments in that we discuss a selected group of nonverbal behaviors with specific interest in analyzing the role of emotion in understanding the gender differences.

Before beginning, it is important to make several points. First, nonverbal behavior does not necessarily signify emotion. Some examples will easily make this point. Smiles can serve the function of “listener responses” that signal comprehension and cue the other person to keep speaking (Brunner, 1979). Gaze is used to help coordinate the intricate process of turn-taking in conversation (Cappella, 1985). Hand movements aid in the process of speech encoding (Krauss, Chen, & Chawla, 1996). These are but a few examples of non-emotional meanings and functions of nonverbal cues.

Second, even when nonverbal cues do indicate emotion, it is often difficult to identify what emotion is being felt. Nonverbal cues do not have fixed, dictionary-like meanings. So, a smile might convey either joy or anxiety, looking at someone might signify hostility or fascination, and so forth. Although someday we might understand the relations among contextual factors, motivational states, and specific muscle configurations well enough to permit a confident identification of which particular emotions are being conveyed by which nonverbal behaviors, in our present state of knowledge we are often unable to do so.

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Gender and Emotion
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