Affect Displays

Affect Displays in Nonverbal Communication

In nonverbal behavior Opens in new window, the word ‘affect’ is related to the word emotions and means much the same thing when we are talking about body language.

Affect displays are the movements of the facial muscles expressing the primary emotions—happiness, surprise, fear, sadness, anger, disgust, and interest. According to Ekman and Friesen, each of these primary emotions has unique, distinctive movements of the facial muscles, and is universal to the human race.

Affect displays are extremely informative and influential, but they are not deliberate and do not have a communicative intent as emblems Opens in new window and illustrators Opens in new window.

An inhibition of facial display, control of facial display, or dissimulation of an affect (looking cool even when tense), may or may not be intentional. Because we have such good feedback about our facial behavior, we usually are aware of what happens the moment we change facial movements; we can monitor, inhibit and dissimulate with our faces.

Affect displays can be consonant or dissonant with verbal messages in a number of ways. They can repeat, qualify or contradict a verbally stated affect, or be a separate, unrelated channel of communication.

Again, affect displays can be emblems, in that a particular social group or culture may select an entire affective display or an element of an affective display and code it so explicitly that it is recognized and used as an emblem; the smile in many cultures is such an emblem.