One communication researcher did a study on people’s ability to identify another’s emotional moods from facial expression, body posture, and tone of voice. Not surprisingly, these non-verbal forms of communication actually do communicate. People can accurately identify emotional moods without words at a rate higher than chance would explain. Further, some people are better at reading emotions than others. Women did a better job than men in this particular study.
But one interesting fact from the study confirms the wisdom of Solomon: “Better is open rebuke than hidden love” (Proverbs 27:5, ESV).
The researcher divided the moods into four categories—pleasurable or distressing, active or passive. The easiest emotions for test subjects to spot were the active/distressing ones such as fear, anger, and disgust. Test subjects almost always identified them correctly. But when the moods were passive/pleasurable such as feelings of love, admiration, and satisfaction the test subjects often missed them. The subjects either confused emotions with one another, or half the time, labeled them as boredom or dislike. The researcher noted:
The implications are obvious: if two people like each other but never give voice to their affection, there’s a good chance at least one of them will miss it. Yet if one party is temporarily upset by the other, it will come through loud and clear, even without a word spoken. Remedy: if you feel positive toward someone—say it!1
We may communicate even when we are not saying a word, but effective communication of the good feelings we have towards others need the added touch of the spoken word.
1Em Griffin, Making Friends (& Making Them Count) (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), pp. 88-89.