Friday, November 19, 2010

Essay on Nonverbal Behavior vs. Self-Presentation

Essay on Nonverbal Behavior vs. Self-Presentation

In this day and age, it is hard to grow up without being surrounded by social pressures and constant dehumanization. We live in a world of overly obsessed people who regard every movement of every part of the body as a sign of happiness, lying or social anxiety. When did we have to start worrying about each little thing we do? Who is to say that the observations of others aren’t true? Maybe they hold a secret clue to something we, ourselves, do not even notice our bodies doing. Well, in Mark R. Leary’s book, Self Presentation: Impression Management and Interpersonal Behavior, his thoughts narrows down some of the most significant actions we engage in and has spent a large portion of his life studying why we do the things we do.

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Because people are raised to learn that a great deal of their lives is determined by how others perceive and judge them, most are then provoked to work their hardest to refrain from conveying false images. This, then, triggers an effect on people that, most of the time, they might not even notice. By subconsciously knowing that people are evaluating their every move, individuals are then prone to supervise and manage their public impressions. In Leary’s book, we learn that we plan a large part of our everyday behavior in an effort to put our best foot forward and avoid flawed evaluations from others. Leary’s encouraged goal is to make the reader take a step back and allow him or herself to view these situations in their own lives. He enlightens us with explanations of impression monitoring, self-esteem, and intimidation. The book provided me with a self-realization into my own actions and thoughts that I engage in. Sometimes self-presentation efforts center on being perceived accurately, but at other times people try to mimic someone they are not. That brings us to the subject of nonverbal behavior, which is one means of self-presentation.

Nonverbal behavior is defined as the way in which something functions or operates involving minimal use of language. This is very prominent in the collection of chapters titled, The Social Context of Nonverbal Behavior. In this collection, the authors, 34 in all, attempt to examine questions and assumptions about the use of communication and its meaning. Within the chapters lies the authors views on everything from mimicry to cultural status to the obligation to smile. I have learned through this book that expressions can be influenced by many factors including gender, age, cultural surroundings, television, social status/power, and mentality. One chapter reports, “ Each individual’s communication style is the result of a complex interaction of social, interpersonal, cultural, and biological influences” (Philippot, 43). This statement embodies one of the main themes of the book. A lot of the context deals with those issues on a number of different levels. In another chapter, we read about how “ it is clear that there is a relationship between expressive behavior and social success” (Philippot, 156). This worries me. Will my children not be socially popular and successful if I do not bring them up in a fashion where they are secure in their feelings and expressions? The ability to communicate with positive images is viewed as the acceptable way to “squeeze out” your approach.

For me, the most interesting subject in this book is that of the smile. It has been proven that there is no gesture with more meanings and appearances than the smile. The smile has always been a source of happiness, joy, delight and friendliness across the world for it is the most easily recognized facial expression internationally. Marianne LaFrance and Marvin Hecht are the authors who take charge of this section by revealing such smile facts as, “ Available evidence does not provide unequivocal evidence that those in low-power positions smile more than those in high-power positions. There are indications, nonetheless, that in power-unequal situations, low-power people likely experience more concern about impression management than high-power people”(LaFrance & Hecht, 48). These findings are exactly what I meant by things you do not usually notice about yourself. Although, now that I have become aware of these activities, I am going to be more attentive to when and why I smile.

Lefrance and Hecht have also conducted tests on gender roles and smiling. They believe that females smile more than males. “For example, others have argued that women smile more than men because of their lower power relative to men in the U.S. society (LaFrance & Hecht, 50). This can be viewed in a number of ways, one being the emphasis on smiling and social acceptance. People, in general, often feel more uncomfortable if they are not smiling during an embarrassing situation. The authors also suggest in this section that people with higher social status do not need to worry about impressing people around them because they already know that they have power, but people of lower status are always trying to make a good imprint on people of higher rank, so they try to appear more approachable. Overall, the book describes many traits that each one of us possesses and use on a daily basis. We all use a certain amount of deception in our relationships, tend to mimic people, and are influenced by our family and the way they express their feelings towards us. All of this is clearly stated in The Social Context of Nonverbal Behavior, but at times overly exaggerated and very repetitious. There are a lot of things the writier write about and then end up just emphasizing the same things over, but in a different setting or with an assortment of different words.

These books are similar in some ways, but different in others. For starters, in Self Presentation, Leary is better at explaining his topic. I related more to his book on a personal level and found it to be more likeable than Philippot’s collection. Leary wrote a greater variety of expressions. He also, in my opinion, wrote more about things that were interesting and that made me wonder, “Do I do that?” His book is outstanding in the fact that you leave it with so much more insight into our own, and others actions. Every time I was done reading a section of the book, I had discovered something new about my motives for doing things. I found it to be so much more interesting than the writing style and context of decoding nonverbal behavior. The main focus in both books is the way you present yourself. They both give great insight into these characteristics and also provide wonderful reasoning as to the way we function. Both address the qualities and effects of facial behavior, society, social norms, the use of smiles, gender-related differences, childhood implications and cultures. While Leary addresses these issues with a lighter style of writing, the authors of The Social Context of Nonverbal Behavior use a more scientific and analytic approach to the subject.

Through both of these books, I have learned about the way people perceive me and what my actions might really mean. I find this especially helpful with my major in public relations and advertising because I now have more confidence in how I can present myself to others. It has really opened my eyes to my behavior and how to use it to get desired reactions from other people. I believe having this information now puts me one step ahead in that I can now evaluate others movements and presentation, and really start to understand them more. This information is a very valuable thing to have because of the way it enables a person to be extremely aware of the way they are portraying themselves and use that to improve their communications with others.

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