Nonverbal Channel Use in Communication of Emotion: How May Depend on Why

Document Type



Psychology (CMC)

Publication Date



This study investigated the hypothesis that different emotions are most effectively conveyed through specific, nonverbal channels of communication: body, face, and touch. Experiment 1 assessed the production of emotion displays. Participants generated nonverbal displays of 11 emotions, with and without channel restrictions. For both actual production and stated preferences, participants favored the body for embarrassment, guilt, pride, and shame; the face for anger, disgust, fear, happiness, and sadness; and touch for love and sympathy. When restricted to a single channel, participants were most confident about their communication when production was limited to the emotion's preferred channel. Experiment 2 examined the reception or identification of emotion displays. Participants viewed videos of emotions communicated in unrestricted and restricted conditions and identified the communicated emotions. Emotion identification in restricted conditions was most accurate when participants viewed emotions displayed via the emotion's preferred channel. This study provides converging evidence that some emotions are communicated predominantly through different nonverbal channels. Further analysis of these channel-emotion correspondences suggests that the social function of an emotion predicts its primary channel: The body channel promotes social-status emotions, the face channel supports survival emotions, and touch supports intimate emotions.

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© 2011 American Psychological Association