Nonverbal expectancy violations and conversational involvement

Judee K. Burgoon, Deborah A. Newton, Joseph B. Walther, E. James Baesler

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82 Scopus citations


A central feature of nonverbal expectancy violations theory is that unexpected behaviors trigger a cognitive-affective appraisal of such behavior, leading to a valencing of the behavior(s) as positive or negative. It has been proposed that communicator reward mediates the interpretation and evaluation of such violations but may be more important when the violative act is ambiguous in meaning than when it is not. Unclear is whether nonverbal behavioral composites introduce greater or less equivocality of interpretation. Two experiments employing multi-cue conversational involvement violations addressed this issue. In the first, dyads (N=51) engaged in a 10-minute baseline interview, after which participants rated each other on several measures of reward valence. One randomly selected member then served as a confederate interviewee during a second interview and either significantly increased or decreased involvement. In the second experiment, reward was manipulated as physical attractiveness, status, and task expertise. Dyads (N = 60) engaged in prolonged problem-solving discussions during which the confederates either committed an involvement violation or not. In both experiments, the involvement changes were sufficiently unexpected, arousing, and distracting to qualify as violations of expectations. Analysis of message interpretations indicated that (1) relative to normal involvement levels, increased nonverbal involvement was interpreted as most immediate/affectionate, receptive, similar, dominant, and composed, and decreased involvement as least so, and (2) reward mediated only the interpretation of formality. High involvement violations in turn produced greater attraction, credibility, and persuasiveness than low involvement violations for high as well as low-reward communicators, as predicted.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)97-119
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Nonverbal Behavior
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1989

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology


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