Advances and Obstacles in Contemporary Nonverbal Communication Research

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For centuries, speculation about the meaning and impact of nonverbal behavior has been common in literature, philosophy, and science. In the latter half of the nineteenth century, Darwin's work on facial expression and emotion was particularly instrumental in focusing attention on expressive behavior. ...

For centuries, speculation about the meaning and impact of nonverbal behavior has been common in literature, philosophy, and science. In the latter half of the nineteenth century, Darwin's work on facial expression and emotion was particularly instrumental in focusing attention on expressive behavior. Nevertheless, sustained and systematic empirical research on nonverbal communication was not widespread until the middle of the twentieth century. Since that time, tens of thousands of articles and hundreds of scholarly books have expanded our knowledge of nonverbal communication and prompted new and interesting questions about its scope and functions.

In laying the foundation for our Research Topic, it is worth noting some of the important topics addressed in current research. For example, we are learning more about the pervasive automatic judgments of others' appearance and behavior, and about the relative accuracy of many of those judgments in everyday life. But automatic judgments can also facilitate prejudice and discrimination, as studies of implicit bias show. The long-held view that facial expressions necessarily reflect underlying emotions is now being challenged. One alternative view proposes that facial behaviors are adaptive and adaptable tools for social influence, rather than universal uniform expressions of basic emotions. The relative merits of these opposing views also have relevance for understanding nonverbal communication in the justice system (e.g., detecting deception), policy decisions, national security, and clinical settings. Research on cultural differences in nonverbal communication provides insight into cultural dynamics and is relevant for reducing inter-group conflict and facilitating cooperation. Exciting recent work in behavioral neuroscience examines the neural correlates of nonverbal communication.

In the present digital age, rapidly-evolving communication technologies might seem to displace the more mundane role of nonverbal communication in everyday life. The continuing expansion of social media, artificial intelligence systems, virtual reality, and social robots, however, are not replacing, but rather extending nonverbal communication to new platforms. As a result, this is a time of expanding the application of research and theory into new domains. Nevertheless, the opportunities provided by the new technologies must be weighed against the ease of spreading misleading and deceptive images that affect our trust in their content.

Consequently, this is an appropriate time to (1) examine more fully the questions driving current research and theory, (2) weigh the potential obstacles to a broader understanding of nonverbal communication, and (3) consider future directions for research. In pursuing these ends, we invite researchers to submit manuscripts to this Research Topic on Advances and Obstacles in Contemporary Nonverbal Communication. Manuscripts can take the form of completed empirical studies, theoretical papers, critical reviews, or commentaries.

Keywords: nonverbal communication, interaction, unconscious processes, automatic judgments, facial expressions


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