Biological and social signaling systems

Kory Floyd, Valerie Manusov

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

1 Scopus citations


As complex beings, humans communicate in complex ways, relying on a range of faculties to encode and decode social messages. Some aptitudes are innate, based on one’s biological characteristics, whereas others are acquired, varying according to one’s social and cultural experiences. As we explain in this chapter, each of us uses a combination of biological and sociocultural processes to produce and interpret social signals. Our goal is to introduce some of the forms that these processes can take. We begin this chapter with an overview of social signals and a comparison between the biological and sociocultural processes underlying their production and interpretation. Next, we explore three examples of biologically processed social signals, and then examine sociocultural processing of the same signals. We conclude the chapter by discussing some ways in which biological and sociocultural processes interact. The Nature of Social Signals Communicators depend on a wide variety of social signals to make sense of the world around them. Poggi and D’Errico (2011) define a signal as “any perceivable stimulus from which a system can draw some meaning” and a social signal as “a communicative or informative signal which, either directly or indirectly, provides information about ‘social facts,’ that is, about social interactions, social attitudes, social relations and social emotions” (Poggi & D’Errico, 2011: 189). Social interactions are situations in which people perform reciprocal social actions, such as a game, a surgical procedure, an orchestral performance, or a conflict. Social attitudes are people’s tendencies to behave in a particular way toward another person or group and include elements such as beliefs, opinions, evaluations, and emotions. Social relations are relationships of interdependent goals between two or more people. Finally, social emotions include those emotions that (1) we feel toward someone else, such as admiration and envy; (2) are easily transmitted from one person to another, such as enthusiasm and panic; and/or (3) are self-conscious, such as pride and shame. As noted, humans use both biological and sociocultural processes to produce and interpret social signals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationSocial Signal Processing
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages12
ISBN (Electronic)9781316676202
ISBN (Print)1107161266, 9781107161269
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computer Science(all)

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