Introduction to Kinesics

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The science of kinesics is more than 50 years old. Heavily influenced by descriptive linguistics, the discipline of kinesics was developed to describe the messages conveyed non-verbally by humans during the process of communication.

Emotion, intention, opinion and belief are all expressed through a series of non-verbal cues during the course of a conversation.


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Kinesics, as defined by Merriam Webster's Online Dictionary, is "a systematic study of the relationship between nonlinguistic body motions (as blushes, shrugs, or eye movement) and communication." The word is derived from the Greek kin─ôsis, which means "motion." Michel Fortin, on the website Better Communication Results, alternately described kinesics as "the science of body which a person manifests various physical, mental or emotional states," as communicated through posture, gestures and facial expression.


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Anthropologist Ray L. Birdwhistell was the founder and pioneer of the science of kinesics. In 1952, Birdwhistell published the book "Introduction to Kinesics," which defined and explained the discipline. The scholar published his second book, "Kinesics and Context," a canonical volume on which his reputation is largely based. Birdwhistell, and all subsequent students and scholars of kinesics, sought to form a grammar of body language that would help define what is said through non-verbal communication.


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Kinesics is important in a number of situations. In a job interview, the proper kinesics can drastically improve an interviewee's chances of being hired, while the wrong kinesics can seriously hamper an otherwise successful meeting. Some interviewers are trained to detect body language indicative of dishonesty. Police also use this technique during interrogations. Fortin asserted that the affects of non-verbal communication can be mimicked in print advertising to maximum effect by the strategic use of tools such as italics, colours, font variations and emboldened lettering.


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Though kinesics is the general study of a non-verbal communication between human beings, modern kinesics asks researchers to consider a number of factors that may affect non-verbal, as well as general, communication. As articulated by the faculty of applied arts at Egypt's Helwan University, factors affecting communication include racial, ethnic or regional origins; religious beliefs and traditions; social class and socio-economic background; education and training; age; sex and occupation.

Related Sciences

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A handful of sciences are closely related to kinesics and are used to study related fields within the overarching area of the minutia of communication between human beings. Proxemics, pioneered by Edward T. Hall, studies the ramifications and significance of the space between communicating people in social situations. Paralanguage is similar to kinesics in that it is used to study how messages are communicated beyond words. Paralanguage involves understanding how the tone in which a message is delivered impacts the message and its meaning.