Nonverbal communication and visual communication are both deeply rooted in cultural understanding. Anthropologists define culture as the universal human capacity to codify and communicate experiences symbolically. Likewise, human interpretation of symbols and gestures is derived from cultural and subcultural context. Both nonverbal communication and visual communication are evolved mechanisms, typified throughout the course of time as humans adapted to their external environment. These silent modes of communication are studied through semiotics, an area of study devoted to decoding the way humans use, interpret or react to symbols.
Exposure to various forms of nonverbal communications characterizing a particular culture starts the day a person is born. Throughout the course of time, humans assign a symbolic value to nonverbal behaviors such as:
- facial expressions
- eye contact
Similarly, before an individual can walk, her sensory system is logging visual communications, which enables babies to detect familiar faces and places.
Around the world, the values assigned to nonverbal communications and visual communications vary. In Turkey, inclining your head means yes and tilting it back means no; in the U.S., the combination of the two nonverbal gestures indicates the affirmative. A very pointed visual difference among many cultures worldwide is dress style. For instance, Americans are known for flip-flops and Indians are noted for wearing vibrant colors. Nonverbal communication and visual communication are both integrally tied to the symbolic languages that shape countries and cultures.
A second parallel between nonverbal behaviors and visual symbols is their function as enhancers to various types of communication. In some cases, nonverbal communication and visual communication become one and the same. For instance, mathematical numbers and letters of the alphabet are two form of written communication, which is an area of communication where symbols are both visual and nonverbal.
As enhancers to an underlying message, nonverbal and visual add-ons may alter the way the receiver comprehends a message. In the context of data, using visual graphs is a great way to improve the transfer of information to the reader; however, it is very important not to overload receivers with extraneous amounts of visual content. Nonverbal cues are also used to convey emotion or strengthen a message. Traditionally, in the U.S., stressing a gaze in conversation is used to encourage feedback. In both nonverbal and visual communications, monitoring the enhancer’s level of impact on the receiver’s ability to decode the accurate message is important. Visual and nonverbal communication aids require processing and the need for balance.