I Heard That!


Going back to my original post regarding Looking while Talking and Listening, I found something specific relating to men and women and different interactions in different social power situations (Dovidio, Ellyson, Keating, Heltman and Brown, 1988). From my reading of this article, men and women exhibited equal patterns of dominance if in the dominant interaction and appeared to be equally submissive when in the  subordinate position, relative to the one (of opposite gender) they were interacting with. However, when men and women were of equal standing within the interaction, men showed the dominant behaviour, while women displayed the more submissive behaviour. (Dominant behaviour in this article was demonstrated by the ratio of looking while speaking to looking while listening, as described earlier (Ellyson and Long, 1975). High visual dominance ratios are associated with high social power.)

I guess the next question I have is why? Does this research imply that women generally feel subordinate to men, even when they are of equal position, say in a work situation? Is this why we still have women working in the same positions as men and getting paid so much less? This is particularly evident in the higher powered occupations where you might expect to see some formidable women, not as, this research shows, women displaying subordinate behaviour! And what does this research tell us in terms of “equal” partnerships between men and women, in marriage, as parents? Is the difference only between heterosexual males and females?

 So many questions…but that’s what makes it all so fascinating and keeps us going and looking for more!

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Look Into My Eyes!


Look into My Eyes!


I have discovered from researching on the internet for specific articles that so much of what Google offers will depend on how you word the search. Initially I mainly Googled “looking while speaking and listening” and the like, to be offered so many dating sites, body language skills sites, etc, whereas Googling “eye gaze while listening and talking” produced so many more research articles, interestingly including work done in eye gaze and avatars, to make them appear more realistic!

One of these dating-type searches took me to Tim Ferris’ blog who posted “Dating without Speaking? The weird world of eye gazing parties.” There is apparently a new trend in speed dating where no speaking is permitted for the time that you spend with your date. You are only allowed to gaze into each other’s eyes! Hmmm, awkward???

Later I found a site with the title, “The Power of Eye Contact”. This basically said you can make someone fall in love with you by gazing at them! The authors of this website (askwomennet) had sourced research by Kellerman, Lewis and Laird (1989) which looked at how a group of students felt after they had looked into each other’s eyes for a few minutes. I was only able to access the abstract for this online, as the complete article was US$35, so was unable to confirm whether or not the research found increases within the body of phenylethylamine. According to this website article, the researchers found this chemical is produced with the mutual eye gazing, and this chemical (apparently!) “makes the person fall in love”.  Perhaps this is the research the Eye Gazing parties were modelled on (eyegazingparties.com)! When I looked further there was even more. Rubin (1970) found that when subject rated high on his love scale, they also spent a lot more time gazing into each other’s eyes. There have been several questionnaires developed for research purposes in an attempt to measure the different feelings of love and like (all found at http://www.childtrends.org/Files?15_LoveMeasures_web.pdf).

 So, how to keep your intimate relationship going?……

Keep looking at each other!   


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Listen to What I’m Telling You!


 I was googling body language skills and listening when I came across Mehrabian’s Communication Model. According to Mind Tools, and other websites aimed at building career skills and informing us about our communication abilities, this model states that almost all, a whopping 93%, of the message conveyed through speech comes from a combination of the body language of the speaker and the tone of the voice. Only 7% comes from the words!!! This seemed just too much, even for me! Why do we bother with words at all then? Why learn another language? What about telephone conversations?

Turns out Albert Mehrabian is being misrepresented to this day and appears to have been spending some of his time since then (1968) trying to qualify his findings. He has written a book and has a website interpreting his findings in “Silent Messages” (1981); http://www.kaaj.com/psych/  There is also an interesting, 5 minute Radio 4 interview from 2009 at following link; http://www.presentationworks.me/index.php/2009/11/mehrabian-on-the-myth/

The interview asks the question of why is it that Mehrabian’s findings from 44 years are still misquoted, the response being that people like a quick fix, and apparently even better if it is formulaic. It could also be that without a grounding in the subject, reporters of these research findings just did not understand the importance of expressing the results in context. Why not just simplify and distil down the results for public consumption and make science applicable in all situations instead. This makes for much more interesting headlines and grablines! The general public like that, and so they will pay to read it!

I guess this is part of what we as potential researchers, but especially as investigators of the science of psychology need to be aware. It is important that the myth and general application of psychology has solid scientific grounding if it is to be applied properly, in context and work, and as importantly, if it is to be taken seriously.

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Look at Me When I’m Talking to You?


Another interaction I have been considering was that of the parent and child. We are taught as children to “look (at me) when I’m talking to you”, as an indication that we are listening to the speaker. But given the research above, how did this originate?

According to developmental psychology, subordinate primates will avert their gaze from an approaching dominant as part of the body language of submission (Ohman, 1986; Mazur and Booth, 1998). So, why would a child be encouraged to front the adult (the dominant) in such a direct way? Is this a form of goading to justify an attack, verbal or otherwise, by the dominant on the submissive? And if so, why would an adult instigate such an interaction? Perhaps this scenario fits more with the status theory; from the ratio of gaze while talking versus gaze while listening, where more gaze while listening indicates a lower social status (the child) to the one they are listening to (the adult).

So while some research indicates Looking while Listening could be perceived as confrontational, as in subordinates confronting dominant primates, other research has shown that gaze while listening indicates a lower social status to the one they are listening to, whereas gaze aversion while listening appears simply to indicate deeper thinking.
I wonder if it just depends on the subject matter. After a quick survey of family and friends as to their expectations of body language during a conversation, they expressed a need for full attention when talking about emotional, personal or involved work issues, and this to be indicated by maintaining eye contact. In talking therapies, the therapist is expected to maintain eye contact; body language experts encourage active listening, again showing this by making and maintaining eye contact. However, less eye contact appears to be acceptable when subject matter is less complex, and especially when discussed between people who are more familiar with each other. I wonder what the real research will show?

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Look at Me, and Then Tell Me you’re Not Lying!


So, what information have I found on Looking while Talking and Listening?

Developmental psychologist Gwyneth Doherty-Sneddon, who was introduced in our module learning resources, was where I decided to start and googled away. I found an interesting article relating to research Doherty-Sneddon and her team worked on in gaze aversion in children and how this helped them in thinking when answering difficult questions (Doherty-Sneddon, 2004). The basic theory is that in order to think more deeply about a difficult question posed to them, a child’s gaze is averted to avoid distractions.

There has also been work in gaze aversion and lying in both adults and children and that again, in older children, from 8 years old, children will avert their gaze when lying. In addition, other research shows that children, particularly girls, are able to recognise gaze aversion as an indication of lying.

So, this research seems to suggest that children will avert their gaze from the questioner to consider a response to difficult question. They will also avert their gaze when considering a lie, as well as when actually lying. It also appears that children develop the ability to pick up on gaze aversion in others as an indication of a lie.

Does this mean that looking away helps in forming responses to tricky questions when the questioner is not sure how to respond? So, this could relate either to a lying situation or to a cognitive process where the respondent is unsure of how their response will be perceived?

And to continue from my first blog entry with my interaction with my husband, what does all this research say about the issue of looking while talking and listening between us? Is he not looking at me when I’m talking because,
(a) he isn’t listening, he is disinterested,
(b) by avoiding distractions he is thinking of a clever response,
(c) he is thinking about lying!!!
(d) he thinks he is superior to me???

Of the options above, I suppose I would like to think (b)!

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Are You Listening to Me???

Hiya, my name is Kristina. I’m a 1st year psychology student and interested in body language, and how we percieve it.

While searching info on research into Looking while Talking and Listening I came across a recent on-line article in Forbes about the body language used by the US presidential candidates during their TV debates. This discussed how they were percieved when they were listening to their opponents, and apparently President Obama did not come across well in this area. This article said he had been seen as disrespectful and not listening, as he did not appear to be looking at his opponent enough. Perhaps he just thought he was superior! Which in a way, he is, being the president and all!

This prompted me to think that perhaps my husband is not entirely disengaged from me when he isin’t looking at me while I’m talking to him. However, given that some of the research looks into the differences between status relative to the person they are talking to (Ellyson and Long, 1975), I then began to consider how he regards our status relative to one another!

I will be looking further at our perceptions of ourselves, and of others, whilst talking and while listening and see what I can find about the differences between men and women, both professionally and socially. I am also interested in what our body language says about the way we interact with children and how they percieve us whe we talk to them.

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