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Br J Soc Psychol. 1981 Feb;20(Pt 1):41-52.

Visual communication and the content and style of conversation.


Previous research suggests that visual communication plays a number of important roles in social interaction. In particular, it appears to influence the content of what people say in discussions, the style of their speech, and the outcomes they reach. However, the findings are based exclusively on comparisons between face-to-face conversations and audio conversations, in which subjects sit in separate rooms and speak over a microphone-headphone intercom which precludes visual communication. Interpretation is difficult, because visual communication is confounded with physical presence, which itself makes available certain cues denied to audio subjects. The purpose of this paper is to report two experiments in which the variables were separated and content and style were re-examined. The first made use of blind subjects, and again compared the face-to-face and audio conditions. The second returned to sighted subjects, and examined four experimental conditions: face-to-face; audio; a curtain condition in which subjects sat in the same room but without visual communication; and a video condition in which they sat in separate rooms and communicated over a television link. Neither visual communication nor physical presence proved to be critical variable. Instead, the two sources of cues combined, such that content and style were influenced by the aggregate of available cues. The more cueless the settings, the more task-oriented, depersonalized and unspontaneous the conversation. The findings also suggested that the primary effect of cuelessness is to influence verbal content, and that its influence on both style and outcome occurs indirectly, through the mediation of content.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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