account of the intellectual history and development of the research area and an account of functions, attributes, and cognitive aspects of nonverbal behavior as they are discussed in the relevant literature. The next major section looks at that literature with a special focus on culture, leadership and effective communication, and the subsequent section considers the methods and technologies used in the research. The last major section considers applications, and the paper ends with a brief conclusion.
Nonverbal behavior has received considerable attention by a wide range of disciplines, including biology, anthropology, sociology, and communications, as well as social and experimental psychology (see DePaulo and Friedman, 1998; Burgoon et al., 1989). This interdisciplinary nature has helped protect research from the intellectual biases and sterility inherent in isolation (see DePaulo and Friedman, 1998). However, the interdisciplinary character of the field may also be responsible for the noticeable change of research foci over the years. For example, during the 1970s turn-taking behaviors were studied extensively. This topic has now seemingly vanished from the agenda of most research groups, while socioemotional effects, for example, are being analyzed in detail.
Regardless of specific research foci, however, one development is pervasive: when the research domain of nonverbal communication in the 1960s and 1970s became increasingly important, the explicit goal was to relate specific signals to specific meanings, such as emotional states or personality traits. Early manuscripts tended to suggest that once the meaning of specific cues was known, one might become able to read another person’s emotions like a book. It should be noted that this belief is still reflected in some nonscientific literature. However, today’s scholars stress the enormous complexity of nonverbal behavior, and no one would seek to unravel the meaning of specific signals.
In contrast to language, nonverbal behavior is not believed to refer to an explicit semantic code. Burgoon and Bacue (2003) conclude: “It is important to underscore the polysemous nature of nonverbal behaviors as well as their substitutability. A single nonverbal cue may have multiple meanings, and the same meaning may be conveyed by a number of different nonverbal cues” (p. 187). Today, in fact, no manner of communication, not even verbal interaction, is still modeled as a one-to-one transmission of meaning from sender to receiver as originally depicted by Shannon and Weaver (1948). In particular, representatives of constructivist assumptions or general systems theory (Watzlawick, Beavin, and Jackson, 1967; Maturana, 1978) argue that meaning is not fixed, encoded into a signal, transmitted, and decoded, but, rather, that it is constructed by the receiver