The NonVerbal Dictionary of Gestures, Signs & Body Language Cues


In his 1961 speech, FCC chairman Newton Minow called television nothing more than a "vast wasteland" (Jankowski and Fuchs 1995:125).

From the end of World War II on, America was on an unbelievable program of homogenization--fast food, commercial air travel, the interstate highway system. And the crown prince of homogenization was network television. --Robert Thompson, professor of film and television at Syracuse University (DeBarros 2000:1A) 

Electronic signals. The great, bristling background noise of TV, CD, radio, print, and computerized sounds, words, and graphic images filling the modern world's PCs, pagers, palm pilots, phone lines, transmission cables, and air waves.

Usage I: As the ancient world once resonated with natural sounds of, e.g., animal cries, storms, flowing waters, and whistling winds, ours blusters with media today. Media has become a seamless electronic web for the display of consumer products and services.

Usage II: Each day, we are occupied by media for longer periods than we sleep. Television, e.g., occupies four hours and nine minutes of the average American's daily routine; radio, three hours; recorded music, 36 minutes; newspaper reading, 28 minutes; book reading, 16 minutes; magazine reading, 14 minutes; home video, seven minutes; and movies in theaters, two minutes (Harwood 1992).

Golf. "No longer can golf be considered a 'minor' TV sport; [thanks to Tiger Woods' dominance of the game,] it is right up there with baseball and basketball now, and second only to the behemoth of the NFL whenever Woods plays and contends" (McCleery 2000:40). 

Images and words. Product chatter is a dominant theme in the great background noise of media. Commercial spots, print ads, and digitally enhanced billboard designs, e.g., rely on a partnership forged in prehistory between a. nonverbal images and b. words. As the original media through which we communicated about our bone, stone, and shell implements, nonverbal images and words (which synergistically reinforce each other) are still the most powerful venue for selling products of vinyl, silicon, and steel. (N.B.: And products made of grain, as well. Fewer Americans scoop generic oats from a barrel, e.g., than buy pre-packaged cereals from Quaker. Oats are merely oats, but Quaker Oats are "100% Natural.") Despite the power of words, that our PCs are increasingly graphics-, video-, and icon-oriented is a sign Nonverbal World is here to stay. 

Magazines. "[Alison] Field's study, in Pediatrics, is believed to be the first to go directly to adolescent girls--548 in grades 5 through 12--to find out how much magazines influence their body images. "About seven in 10 say magazine pictures influence their ideas of the perfect body shape, and nearly half report wanting to lose weight because of a magazine picture" (USA Today, March 2, 1999, D1; see BODY DYSMORPHIC DISORDER).

Media1. According to a Spokesman-Review article about Mike and Sarah Aho, and their Spokane, Washington family's experience beginning a life without TV: "The Ahos noted an unexpected bonus: Because the kids don't see many commercials, they have incredibly short Christmas lists" (White 2000:F8). 2. Regarding the Amazon Indians of Sao Gabriel da Cachoeira, Brazil (according to Orlando Jose de Oliveira, president of the Indigenous People's Federation): "When Indians started getting television, they stopped working and only worried about getting money for diesel fuel to run the generators so they could watch soap operas" (Astor 2001:A3).

Media commercials. "Harvard economist Juliet Schor claims that every additional hour of TV a person watches each week increases that person's annual spending by about $200" (Spokesman-Review, Feb. 7, 1999).

Motion pictures. "Decades later, women are still inspired by Audrey Hepburn (1929-1993), who set trends for ballet flatssleeveless dressesbateau-neck topscapri pants and pixie haircuts . . ." (Sporkin 2000:137). 

Observation. Fashion statements are shaped by isopraxic ads and commercials, in which colorful images combine with jingles, rhymes, and catchy words.

TV I. Invented in 1924, television is catching on for Homo sapiens faster than fire caught on a million years ago for H. erectus. In 1991, e.g., 13% of all human beings lived in one of the world's 650 million TV households (Kidron and Segal 1991). That we automatically turn our heads and eyes toward a TV commercial's percussive, sudden noises is due to an inborn, auditory reflex located in the amphibian brain. TV advertisers rely on this midbrain response for us to pay attention to commercials. TV ads circumvent the FCC's rules for volume by making every sound in a commercial approach the allowable maximum, a modification known as "volume compression" (Feldman 1989:82).

TV II. Invented in 1953 by CBS electrical engineer, Charles Douglass, canned laughter stimulates an unconscious contagion of isopraxic chuckling in viewers (Anonymous 1993B). Douglass called his invention "audience reaction."

TV III. Commercial color TV began in 1954 (source: Collier's Encyclopedia), making the medium friendly to color-conscious human primates.

TV IV. Watching television is the activity Americans say they look forward to most each day (Conn and Silverman 1991:95). The average American spends four hours a day viewing television programming (Cole 1981:184).

TV V. Foods most often mentioned or consumed on prime-time shows are alcohol, coffee, and soft drinks (Anonymous 1993C).

TV VI1. Children watching TV pay "elevated attention" to a. women and women's voices, b. children and children's voices, c. eye contact,d. puppets, e. animation, f. peculiar voices, g. movement, h. lively music, i. auditory changes, j. rhyming, and k. vocal repetition [in Hale and Lewis]. 2. Children watching TV pay "depressed attention" to a. men and men's voices, b. animals, c. inactivity, and d. still drawings [in Hale and Lewis]. 3. Children gazing at a screen "beyond 10 seconds" display a relaxed body, a head-slouch forward, and a jaw-droop [in Hale and Lewis]. 4. In 1999, televised professional wrestling was blamed in at least three U.S. child killings, when, allegedly imitating such wrestling stars as Terry "Hulk Hogan" Bollea and Steve "Sting" Borden, one youngster "clotheslined," slammed, or stomped another child to death (Spencer 2001:A7).

E-Commentary: "I am a student at the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, Texas. I am currently researching nonverbal communication through commercials. I was wondering if you could lead me to some sources on the subject. Anything you could come up with will be greatly appreciated." --J.S. (3/26/00 11:09:29 AM Pacific Standard Time) 

E-Commentary: "I could really use your help in a presentation I'm doing for a group of client news anchors and reporters. One recurring problem we have with the performance of anyone who reads copy for a living is that vocal emphasis is frequently misplaced. Sometimes, they try to place emphasis or stress on too many words, and it can make them sound very artificial and somewhat mechanical. I was wondering if you knew of any research out there regarding vocal emphasis. I know there's been a lot done recently because of efforts to replicate the human voice and better understand it in speech recognition software and the like. You were the first place I thought to check." L.G., Senior Communications Consultant, Frank N. Magid Associates (8/11/00 1:02:19 PM Pacific Daylight Time)

Neuro-notes I. By using pictures and words, media engages both the right and left sides (i.e., hemispheres) of the cerebral neocortex (seeHUMAN BRAIN). The right cortex (of right-handed individuals) communicates with modules of the older mammalian brain. With its flicker and shifting scenes, TV engages modules of the amphibian brain as well.

Neuro-notes II. Mirror neurons: Watching sports and movies on TV engages our mirror neurons. We feel as if we ourselves perform the pictured body movements: ". . . when we watch someone hit another person on TV, our mirror neurons respond as if we had done it ourselves" (Karen Dill; in Dill, Karen E. (2009). How Fantasy Becomes Reality: Seeing Through Media Influence (New York, Oxford U. Press), p. 27).

Photo of flat-screen TVs on sale at Costco (on December 20, 2009, Sprague Avenue, Spokane, Washington, USA) by Doreen K. Givens (copyright 2009)