Paralinguistics & Eye Contact

Paralinguistics & Eye Contact

Communicating without words

Many of us tend to think of communication as a word based activity. Think of communication and we imagine people writing to each other, having a conversation or even debating in class. In actual fact a huge amount of communication between people takes place at a non-verbal level. What we say is sometimes less informative than the way we say it. How else would we know, for example, that someone is joking, being sarcastic, or lying?



This is to do with tone of voice and emphasis. We can change the meaning of words simply by saying them in a range of different ways. Imagine a phone call between two strangers in which one tells the other: ‘I love you’. The nature of this man’s feelings can only be understood if we listen to the intonation, or the way in which each of the words are emphasised.

The three words may be phrased as a question, with a rising intonation. They may be said

casually, suggesting that these strangers have been together for years or that it is love of a non-romantic nature. It could be said sarcastically, in which case the opposite meaning of the words is intended.


Eye contact

In Romantic poetry eyes have been described as the windows to the soul. This is obviously an exaggeration but it does show how important the eyes are in helping us to read what someone is thinking or feeling. In conversation the eyes give all kinds of clues about what someone is feeling. It is very difficult to have a conversation with someone who refuses to look at you. Dilated (wide open) pupils generally send more positive signals than contracted pupils and can even make someone seem more attractive.

Argyle (1968) conducted an experiment to see how eye contact aids the natural flow of a conversation. Participants were observed in conversation both with and without dark glasses. In the instances where one of the participants wore glasses there were more interruptions and pauses in the conversation.

Conclusion and limitations: The study clearly revealed that eye contact is important in maintaining a fluent conversation and so plays a large part in unspoken communication. It could be noted that the experiment was conducted in artificial conditions and so lacked ecological validity.