Friends of the Nonverbal Communication Blog, this week we present the paper “Robot lecture for enhancing presentation in lecture” by Ishino, T.; Goto, M. y Kashihara, A. (2022), in which authors carry out an experiment to know whether the use of robots with specialized skills in nonverbal communication is positive and beneficial for the learning process of students in class.

For some years now, the use of robots, especially small ones, has been spreading in various contexts such as care, nursing, education, guidance, hospitality… and moreover, people’s interest in implementing robots in some of these areas is growing exponentially, especially in education. 

In this article, authors focus on the use of communication robots to give lectures or short lessons in small classes. 

In a lecture, it is generally very important to present the contents with slides to support the oral presentation, so that a better and easier understanding by the students is achieved. This requires teachers to control the students’ attention, both to the slides and to the oral presentation, and this must be done by means of many non-verbal elements: the eyes, gestures, paralanguage, etcetera. 

For example, if teachers want to draw students’ attention to an important point on a particular slide, they should turn their face towards the presentation and point with a direct gesture simultaneously

On the other hand, nonverbal behavior that is histrionic, excessive, unnecessary, would prevent students from keeping their attention on understanding the content. Consequently, it is essential for teachers or lecture speakers to have some training in nonverbal communication. 

However, even for experienced communicators, it is not so easy to make proper use of the learned tools of nonverbal communication and maintain it throughout the lecture. And if we bear in mind that there are also inexperienced people who do not know the effective techniques in this type of situation, the matter becomes more complex. 

Those with less experience tend to concentrate more on oral explanation and leave aside non-verbal communication. As a result, the learning process for students will be more difficult. 

The authors propose the use of robots to give lectures, replacing human teachers. The aim in the experiment was to reproduce nonverbal behavior as adequate as possible for the students to pay attention to the most important contents of the lecture. 

The robot reproduced the presentation that was part of the supporting material of the lecture or class, and directed its face and gestures accordingly. 

The study compares the effectiveness of human-delivered and robot-delivered lectures in terms of student learning. 

The participants were 36 university students. Three different video lectures lasting 5-6 minutes were prepared. 

The obtained results reported that the robots had difficulties in performing accurate speaker behavior, due to their obvious limitations (they are not human beings), but their behavior was recognizable. 

In the case of a pointing gesture, performed by human teachers, it is required to point to precise locations. If it is imprecise, it can lead to confusion on the part of the students, and they will lose attention. The pointing gesture by a robot tends to be firmer, so students would pay immediate attention in the direction pointed. 

However, to make up for the possible shortcomings of robots in terms of gestures, the authors propose using laser pointers or visual effects on the slides.

As a point that also needs to be improved, the authors mention that the robot needs to recognize the learning and behavioral states in the classroom on the part of the students. For example, if there are people who feel that the lecture is difficult, the robot will have to present a different nonverbal behavior that helps to change this perception. 

The results are positive in terms of attention when it comes to lectures given by the robot, possibly because of the novelty factor, although it is also mentioned that they are short lectures and this can be a point in favor. For this reason, the authors propose the use of hybrid models where robots make the introductions to certain topics and human teachers explain the complex parts or those that require a less “technological” factor. 

In the future, authors intend to learn more about the applications of robots in the field of education. In the meantime, they invite other researchers to investigate the subject, in order to include more and more of this type of technology in our lives. 

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Friends of the Nonverbal Communication Blog, this week we present the paper “Students’ Classroom Silence and Hopelessness: The impact of Teachers’ Immediacy on Mainstream Education” de Juma, O.; Husiyin, M.; Akhat, A. y Habibulla, I. (2022), in which authors think about and analyze the implications of silence and hopelessness in the educative context and how teachers can act to prevent their negative effects. 

Students’ feelings are a key part of their individual well-being and, obviously, of their mental health, affecting their inspiration, their attention, their school success…

On the one hand, we have constructive feelings, such as joy, pride, which raise the students’ inspiration to learn and their attention. On the other hand, there are destructive feelings, such as stress, exasperation, and boredom, which can jeopardize education.

When students are facing the possibility of failing, they may be dealing with destructive feelings, such as humiliation, hopelessness, and may not be able to participate like other peers in learning.

Since feelings mark the learning process so much, it is important to obtain information about them to create an educational environment that is emotionally healthy and that can improve the mental health and performance of students.

If we talk about destructive feelings, on the one hand, we have dejection or hopelessness. Students who suffer from it can avoid harming themselves with course activities, leading to greatly reduced performance and learning. It also reduces motivation for life, and this can lead to violent behavior.

That is, hopelessness increases when the conviction that a good future awaits decreases. It also causes an increase in negativity about life.

Another topic in learning, which has been more explored than others in general, is the problem of silence. It is a broad phenomenon, which has become an obstacle to the creation of bonds between educators and students, which influences the achievement of the objectives of the class as a whole and of each student in particular.

Silence can be positive, but its negative interpretations are certainly more common, and a negative classroom environment often affects performance.

Teachers have made great efforts to engage students in activities and improve the effectiveness of their education, but many students are still not interested in participating in classes. What usually happens is that these young people are hesitant to participate, not ready to respond, inactive and sometimes overly dependent on teachers.

With all of this, we conclude that educators want to successfully instruct their students, so they need to know how to build inspiration in their classroom and encourage their students to participate. To achieve this, verbal and also non-verbal practices can be configured.

This is where the concept of immediacy appears. It refers to a physical, expressive or affective friendship or familiarity that is confirmed through constructive behaviors, and in the educational field, it is considered a way of interaction between teachers and students that brings many benefits; in fact, other previous studies have shown that immediacy is, actually, a way to improve communication and bonds between teachers and students.

Immediacy is essential, therefore, for educators to reduce students’ emotional filters, as well as change and improve their health and behavior through teaching and training.

Some of the verbal techniques of immediacy are providing students with immediate feedback, having conversations before and after classes, calling students by their own name, sharing experiences, giving personal opinions, among others.

Verbal immediacy techniques refer to messages that show compassion, frankness, kindness, reward, acclaim, inclusion, comedy, and above all, willingness to involve students in the group.

But in addition, sympathy, body language, gestures of friendship and support are also used, which are non-verbal elements and besides have a positive influence on the relationship between teachers and students, motivating the latter to be more active in the classroom and to be more involved.

Non-verbal immediacy would imply non-oral attitudes that promote intimacy, especially emotional, and attract the attention of students. In other words, the most important thing about non-verbal elements applied to immediacy is that they improve the emotional and mental closeness of teachers and students.

They can include gestures, facial expressions, body movements, clothing and appearance, smiling, physical distance…

Therefore, after reviewing previous literature, authors conclude that improving teachers’ immediate development practices will promote students’ stress tolerance, self-confidence, and motivation, thus reducing their levels of despondency and improvement of your well-being in general.

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Friends of the Nonverbal Communication Blog, this week we present the paper “Effects of Body-Oriented Interventions on Preschoolers’ Social-emotional Competence: A systematic review” by Dias Rodrigues, A.; Cruz-Ferreira, A.; Marmeleira, J. and Veiga, G. (2022), in which authors carry out a revision of previous literature about body-oriented interventions with kids in kindergarten, to know if these interventions improve their socio-emotional skills.

 Early childhood is a fundamental period of life. In it there is a very significant development of socio-emotional skills, which are a very important basis for the health, well-being and success of children. These competencies are also crucial for children to deal with current and future stressors and challenges.

When we talk about socioemotional competencies, we refer to social (ability to solve problems, adjust behavior according to the social situation, etc.) and emotional competencies (understanding, regulation, and expression of emotions) that work together towards adaptive development.

These socio-emotional competencies are developed from very early ages through the process of socialization of emotions, that is, through the modeling, observation, and communication of emotions.

In the past few decades, several intervention programs have been implemented in educational contexts with the aim of promoting the development of socio-emotional skills in children.

One of these types of interventions are those oriented to the body, which are of particular interest to us, because it is assumed that bodily and emotional experiences are associated with each other and related to psychomotricity, play, dance, physical activity or relaxation. That is: nonverbal elements.

All this would serve to be aware of the body, of the body in relation to others and the connection between it and emotions.

A strong body of evidence supports the effectiveness of these interventions in the educational context. That is why the research investigates this specific context.

The objective is to know if there is, indeed, an improvement in socio-emotional skills with these interventions focused on the body that use non-verbal elements of communication.

The process was as follows: a series of articles were chosen, compiled from various databases, published between 2000 and 2020. The study participants had to be children between 3 and 7 years old and they had to attend preschool education. In addition, the study had to use body-oriented interventions for at least one week and necessarily in the context of school.

To date, this is the first systematic review to learn about the effects of body-oriented exposures in educational contexts on the socioemotional competencies of preschool children.

Despite the difficulty in identifying the ideal intervention “dose,” the emerging consensus among researchers is that children who received more sessions demonstrated greater outcomes. However, according to the analysis carried out, there is not enough evidence to support this idea.

Some of the assessment instruments used in the included studies were self-reports by parents and teachers. The use of parent reports is based on the idea of the children that parents see, and their knowledge of the child in various contexts, therefore they can observe them in very different situations. However, they may be carried away by the urge to create a positive image of their children and thus their opinion may be biased.

There was limited evidence of the positive effects of this type of interventions on emotion recognition, emotional regulation strategies, and social cooperation and independence. However, authors do consider that the bodily and emotional experiences displayed by them possibly facilitate the recognition and regulation of emotions.

These skills are essential for social interactions and are predictors of cooperative social behaviors.

There was also evidence, although limited, that these interruptions improved game interaction and skill, behavior problems, and hyperactivity.

Future research should not omit important data, as occurred in some of those analyzed, on, for example, eligibility criteria.

Authors point out the need to know exactly what type of body-oriented intervention is most useful for the development of socio-emotional skills in children of these ages and mark it as one of the main objectives of future studies.

If you want to know more about nonverbal behavior and how it influences our personal relationships, visit our Nonverbal Communication Certificate, a 100% online program certificated by the Heritage University (Washington) with special discounts for readers of the Nonverbal Communication Blog.

Friends of the Nonverbal Communication Blog, this week we present the paper “Gesture and Language Trajectories in Early Development: an Overview from the Autism Spectrum Disorder Perspective” by Ramos-Cabo, S.; Vulchanov, V. and Vulchanova, M. (2019), in which authors carry out a revision about the existent works about gestures, language, and how they are developed in children with autism spectrum disorders.  

When we talk about autism spectrum disorders, we mean a very broad and extensive group of different neurodivergences. Although these are very complex, we know a few things about them.

For example, one of the first signs of the existence of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) is the absence or late appearance of communicative behaviors, both verbal and non-verbal.

In this article authors comment that there is a large body of research showing that the evolution of language in typically developing children (TD) is highly dependent on their ability to produce gestures. However, there still are many questions without answers for children with ASD on this precise topic.

Authors therefore wonder whether gestures also influence language development in children with ASD, and if there are differences between the gestures of children with ASD and children with TD.

Authors mention many studies in the article, from which we can extract two main ideas that we will be developing.

In the first place: the association between gestures and language exists in children with ASD; secondly, there are, indeed, differences in the development of verbal and non-verbal communication skills between children with ASD and children with TD.

Regarding the first idea, multiple studies have shown that gestures can predict the language skills of children with ASD and, in particular, deictic gestures, which would be relevant both for these children and for those with typical development. Deictic gestures are those that are used to guide someone’s attention to something located in the environment.

The fact that these gestures are related to social and interactive demands indicates that they could constitute a powerful and useful tool for early interventions in children with ASD, since these disorders are also related to social interaction. 

Previous studies show that intervention in this area improves the vocabulary of children typically developed, which is why authors understand that it could be very beneficial for children with ASD, providing them with more nonverbal communication resources that could expand their verbal skills and, therefore, also improve social skills.

Regarding the second idea, there are numerous studies that indicate the presence of differences in the development of nonverbal communication skills in children with ASD when compared to the development of children with TD.

One of these differences is the lower rate of gestures in children with ASD compared to typically developing children. There would also be a progressive deterioration in the domain of deictic gestures in these children.

One idea raised by authors is that, due to the fact that no evidence of retardations in verbal and non-verbal communication appears until the first year of life, some previous studies have failed to find differences in early communication skills between groups of children with ASD and children with TD.

It should also be considered that babies with ASD can develop communication skills similar to those of children with TD, but the trajectory of this development changes from that first year that we have mentioned.

That is, at some point in the first two years of life there is a decline. This is not limited to the domain of communication skills, but also to social, cognitive and adaptive behaviors.

In any case, authors advise caution when interpreting these findings, as they consider that much more evidence is necessary, due to the complexity of autism spectrum disorders.

Authors mention the need for research that replicates this study and those mentioned in it. For some of the aforementioned investigations, methods such as the observation of unstructured interactions or analysis of home videos were used, so that, although they have some validity, their control is difficult. That is one point that can be improved.

They comment that gestural language elicitation methodologies are necessary, so that they can allow naturalistic interactions between the caregiver and the child in controlled environments. In that way, the children’s communication skills, as well as other cognitive and social skills, would improve substantially.

Friends of the Nonverbal Communication Blog, this week we present the paper “Non-Verbal Communication and Management of Interactive Conflict in School-based violence: a Sociological Perspective” by Iyekolo, A. O. (2020), in which the author makes a revision about the problems of not paying attention to nonverbal cues of students and teachers.

We all know that school is a projection of society in a small version, actually.

In the end, it is still an environment in which people of diverse origins and socio-economic orientations come together, in order to acquire knowledge and social skills.

Social interaction would be the method through which people in any environment (although we are referring to the school in this case) creates relationships and exchange ideas, using both verbal and nonverbal language.

Language is so important precisely because it is the main tool of social interaction. Humans, animals, and even plants seem to have ways of communicating their state through its use.

And it is important both in its verbal and nonverbal manifestation. When the author talks about nonverbal communication, he refers to facial expressions, gestures, body movement and physical appearance, in addition to prosody, proxemics, artifacts, and so on.

In many cases, a large part of the nonverbal communication of the school environment is underestimated when actually it has a very important role in the correct development of life in the center. It is used constantly. In fact, social interaction and academic activities may not generate the expected benefits when nonverbal messages are not used properly, even school violence may appear.

Interactive conflicts occur. They happen when the academic and social interactions of school personnel and students become negative and dysfunctional. That is, the interaction between staff and students cannot lead them towards the achievement of the proposed objectives if there is a communication breakdown.

The author, in this article, presents from a sociological perspective how poor verbal and nonverbal communication can affect the relationship between students, teachers and the school, and how interaction conflicts can arise if the messages are not well decoded or they are underestimated by figures of power.

The author explains, firstly, the theory of labeling and the theory of self-fulfilling prophecies, which he considers important for the development of the paper.

Labeling theory says that people are assigned a label based on what they do, say, and how they appear. Therefore, the appearance of a person can be enough to label him/her as deviant, conformist, a delinquent, obedient, and so on. According to the experts who support this theory, if it is a figure of power the one that assigns the label (parents, teachers, etc.), there is a tendency for labeled people to see themselves as such and act accordingly.

Teachers’ interactions with students will be influenced by the label or definition of the student’s behavior, which is verbally and nonverbally communicated. Teachers can, for example, give more encouragement to those students they consider brilliant. This will cause that student’s self-concept to be shaped by the teacher’s expectations, seeing himself/herself as, brilliant, boring, or passive (in other cases), acting accordingly. This would be the theory of self-fulfilling prophecies applied to this context.

That is why a good understanding of communication, verbal and nonverbal, of students and teachers is so important.

The author highlights several nonverbal cues to which he considers that teachers should pay special attention.

Artifacts are nonverbal communication items consisting of clothing, makeup, glasses, accessories, jewelry, and so on. They are elements of the person’s appearance. Efforts are made in the school environment to unify these artifacts through policies such as wearing a uniform. In this way, they try to eliminate negative impressions, segregation, or inequalities, and instill discipline. But equally, if we take a close look at the students and teachers, we can still infer a few things about their person.

For example, a student can communicate through this way his disposition towards a certain youth subculture. It can also reflect his/her sense of discipline or his/her willingness to engage in a violent act. The way students roll up their sleeves, where they put their belts or pants, the level at which the shirt is buttoned… can say a lot about them.

Prosody is also a very interesting aspect. We refer to the voice, volume, rate of speech, pauses or sighs of the speaker. It can provide a rich source of information for the teacher, heads of studies, and all school staff who want to avoid violence in it.

Prosody can represent the temperament of students and teaching staff. Teachers can decode what a student’s level of aggressiveness is through prosody; just like school administrators can decode how their employees handle their emotions at school.

This channel informs listeners nonverbally about the emotional needs of the speaker. The teacher can detect if a student or another teacher is emotionally stable simply by listening to them speak.

We also have proxemics, which is the use of social and personal space when we are communicating. The way the student sits, moves his/her hands, his/her face, can show his/her interest in what he/she is listening to. Thus, the teacher can assess the eagerness of his students to, for example, learn.

The fact that schools do not correctly decode a series of nonverbal messages within their environments can generate conflicts and violence in them.

Unread negative nonverbal messages can cause conflicts that hinder social interaction. Many students are isolated and harassed at school because they do not integrate in the school as the others.

Unfortunately, a student can be very quiet, reserved and passive in class, not because that is his/her personality, but because he/she finds it difficult to place himself/herself among his/her peers. A teacher who is not aware of this may misclassify the student as passive and therefore neglect him/her. In addition, it could affect the student’s self-concept.

The conclusion we get is that nonverbal elements cannot be ignored in school and they need the same attention as verbal ones. This type of communication can improve the well-being of students and teachers and, as such, resources should be dedicated to its study.

Friends of the Nonverbal Communication Blog, this week we present the paper “The Role of Emoticons in the Comprehension of Emotional and Non-emotional Messages in Dyslexic Youth: a Preliminary Study”, by Lesniak, E. and Grzybowski, S. J. (2021) in which authors carry out a preliminary study to evaluate the comprehension of messages with emoticons within young people with dyslexia. 

Of all learning disabilities, dyslexia is the most common one, with a prevalence rate of up to 17% of the world’s population, with many undiagnosed school-age children and young people.

In addition to being a learning disability, it is also a source of behavioral, emotional, and psychosocial complications, plus, it can even become so in the long term.

Dyslexia is characterized by poor reading precision and/or poor fluency, which, together with poor spelling and decoding, have a full impact on reading comprehension.

These deficits have been shown to negatively affect executive functions, such as selective attention. There is some data that even indicates that dyslexia could be related to more serious problems in cognitive mechanisms, such as executive attention and working memory.

Dyslexia causes problems at school, but also in the personal and social sphere, where adolescents can be a more vulnerable group, given that the vast majority of their social contact consist of writing and reading messages online (social networks).

It is important to investigate how dyslexic young people carry out tasks of daily life, such as reading messages of different types, and how the factors that online messaging systems possess place them.

One of the distinguishing characteristics of online messaging systems is the presence of non-verbal aids for verbal communication. These aids are emoticons.

They perform non-verbal functions in online communication and are used to express not only emotions and humor, but also to strengthen the verbal content of the message, while respecting its interpretation. In addition, it conveys specific aspects of speech acts, such as the user’s intentions. Its purpose is to make the message as understandable as possible.

Furthermore, the majority of young people born after 1980 (so-called millennials) are well aware of the use of emoticons and rely heavily on them in their daily exchanges of written messages.

Therefore, authors consider that it is worth examining the role and benefits (if there is any) of emoticons in the reading comprehension of young dyslexics, because they depend on the online messaging applications in their daily life, especially with the situation pandemic and post-pandemic, which forces to maintain social isolation.

For the experiment, authors gathered a total of 32 primary and secondary school students, aged 11-15 years. 16 of them were classified in the team of young people with dyslexia, and the other 16 were the control group.

They were shown a series of short messages, with emoticons, emulating the messaging platform “Messenger”.

Authors compared the comprehension of the written messages with or without emoticons with the reaction times and the precision of the answers given in both the experimental and the control groups.

The longest response times were in the experimental group, with young people with dyslexia. This could reflect the problems they may have getting the right information. In addition, it could be considered as a plus to provide more time during the educational process for young people with dyslexia, including written tests.

The fastest responses were given in both groups when there were emoticons present in the messages. Conversely, messages lacking non-verbal cues and lacking emotional content appeared to be the most difficult to process.

The analyzes and verification that the responses to the messages with no emoticons (that is, those that do not represent emotions) were the most accurate. Possibly, these emoticons are the ones that most benefit people with this disability, since they are purely non-verbal signs that serve as graphic transcriptions of the verbal content and help in the understanding of the message.

As such, they could be implemented in educational programs and online studies as aids in reading comprehension tasks.

On the other hand, traditional emoticons (which represent basic emotional states, such as happiness, sadness, or surprise), could be seen as more complex in nature, as they add an interpretation, or an intention, to the message.

However, this last point should be approached with caution because there were no significant differences between the accuracy of the responses to messages with traditional emoticons and to messages with non-traditional emoticons.

A limitation of this study is that, due to its exploratory and preliminary nature, the sample size is small, which limits the interpretation of the data and the results obtained and is a point on which future investigations should focus. 

Friends of the Nonverbal Communication Club, this week we present the paper “Does Teacher Immediacy Affect Students? A Systematic Review of the Association Between Teacher Verbal and Non-verbal Immediacy and Student Motivation”, by Liu, W. (2021), in which the author carries out a revision of some previous studies about whether teacher immediacy affects students behavior.

The study of the teacher immediacy in the field of educational communication is attracting more and more the attention of experts.

But what is immediacy?

It was first introduced by Mehrabian, who defined the concept as “communication behaviors that enhance closeness and non-verbal interaction with others.” Furthermore, considering the “approach-avoidance theory”, this author proposed that people are likely to approach those who they like and away from those who they do not like.

Regarding the importance of immediacy in educational environments, other authors have proposed that the verbal and non-verbal behaviors that teachers use in their interactions with their students can be considered as a reward by them. That is, teachers could inspire students to be more motivated, attentive, and engaged, minimizing anxiety, stress, and negative reactions from students, by exhibiting verbal and non-verbal actions.

It has been pointed out that this could be especially useful for foreign/second languages classes, although it could also affect all training activities in general.

Some research has studied the satisfaction of students regarding the immediacy of the teacher. In these investigations, reached conclusions point in the direction that students who have an immediate teacher are more satisfied with their learning experience than those who do not.

Although numerous studies have sought to examine the association between immediacy and factors such as academic engagement, participation, or learning, there is less research on immediacy and motivation.

For this reason, the author decides to carry out a systemic review of the existing literature on this matter.

What would be the teacher’s behaviors of immediacy? We can classify them into verbal ones and non-verbal ones.

The verbal ones can be: calling the students by their names, asking for comments on the lessons, referring to the class as “we/us”, engaging in conversations with the students before and after class, etcetera.

The non-verbal ones can be: having close proxemics, a direct body orientation, smiles and vocal varieties, using physical gestures, making eye contact, having a relaxed body position, among others.

How was this study conducted? The author carried out a bibliographic search in different databases about the subject. After filtering numerous articles, the sample was finally reduced to 30 investigations.

Of these 30, only 5 empirical studies (17%) were carried out in foreign/second languages classes; the rest examined the interaction between teacher immediacy and student motivation in general educational contexts (science, communication, business, etc.).

Among the results obtained, it was found that students perceive the immediate behaviors of teachers as an important motivating factor in teaching-learning environments.

Regarding the role of teacher non-verbal immediacy, the findings indicated that these behaviors improve students’ motivation. In other words, it was revealed that the teacher’s non-verbal immediacy is a strong predictor of their students’ motivation.

A positive relationship was also found between the verbal immediacy of the teacher and the motivation of the students.

That is, students instructed by a teacher who uses both verbal and non-verbal immediacy behaviors are more motivated than those instructed by teachers who do not use them.

This can be explained by the fact that getting students’ attention is the most crucial factor when it comes about motivating them. Moving around the class, making eye contact, and, in general, calling them by name, etcetera, also strongly influence.

These teachers, in addition to improving the state of their students’ motivation, contribute to strengthening their interaction with them, and therefore, the relationship between them.

There are also signs that immediacy would also influence the learning outcomes of students, with higher achievements. It can be explained because these behaviors would inspire students to be more attentive and therefore improve their performance.

Among the limitations of this research, we point out the small number of studies that have been examined and, furthermore, that the vast majority of them were carried out in university and non-school contexts.

For future research, the importance of conducting more empirical studies in these settings, especially in foreign/second languages classes, is pointed out.

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