MY AMERICAN SCIENTIST
LOG IN! REGISTER!
SEARCH
 
RSS
Logo IMG
HOME > ON THE BOOKSHELF > July-August 1998 > Bookshelf Detail

BOOK REVIEW

Body-Language Buffet

Rowland Miller

Nonverbal Communication: Where Nature Meets Culture. Ullica Segerstr?le and Peter Molnár, eds. 314 pp. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1997. $29.95.

Everyone will find something of interest in this eclectic volume of psychophysiology, economics, ethology and history, all of it documenting the close ties between nature and culture in human affairs. The book emerged from a 1992 conference at the Center for Interdisciplinary Research in Bielefeld, Germany. The conference organizers—also this collection's editors—enticed a diverse group of 20 international scholars to share their views. Indeed, the volume's geographic reach may have helped produce its defining characteristic, an intellectual miscellany that can be its most intriguing yet most frustrating feature.

Segerstr?le and Molnár unabashedly acknowledge their intent to persuade readers that, rather than being opposing influences, biological and social determinants of behavior often shape one another. Human beings are among the many animals, for instance, that are born with certain hard-wired capacities for intelligible displays that signal their emotions. However, one's upbringing encourages voluntary control of such responses, as culture dictates which displays are acceptable in which situations. Adult behavior emerges from the combined, interactive influences of nature and culture, with the distinctions between them sometimes fuzzy.

The authors cover such universals in nonverbal human behavior as facial expressions and social grooming; cultural pressure on the evolution of nonverbal behavior; and nonverbal behavior as both embodiment and cause of cultural patterns. On one hand, the book's breadth is exciting, its reach invigorating. Most of the authors describe their own research—from high-tech measurement of muscular tension in the face to patient, painstaking observation of primitive cultures. Others offer informed speculation on such things as our ancestors' decision to descend from trees and on the modern-day difficulty of distinguishing good people from bad.

Although the book is an intellectual smorgasbord, as with any good buffet, not all of the dishes will be to everyone's liking. Only a reader with the broadest intellectual sympathies is likely to find commentaries on bird calls, 10th century monastic sign language, smiling in infants, culture or the lack thereof in capuchin monkeys and autonomic reactions to angry faces to be equally compelling. And only the least parochial scientist is likely to find the analytic methods represented here to be equally persuasive. In my view, the book admirably establishes nonverbal behavior as a focal point of the dynamic interplay of biological and social origins of behavior. Although its eclecticism is attractive, its diversity reduces its cohesion and coherence. Many readers may wish for larger portions of their favorite dish.—Rowland S. Miller, Psychology, Sam Houston State University

 

Connect With Us:

    Pinterest Icon Google+ Icon Twitter Icon Facebook Icon Sm


Pizza Lunch Podcasts

African Penguins"Penguins are 10 times older than humans and have been here for a very, very long time," said Daniel Ksepka, Ph.D., a North Carolina State University research assistant professor. Dr. Ksepka researches the evolution of penguins and how they came to inhabit the African continent.

Because penguins have been around for over 60 million years, their fossil record is extensive. Fossils that Dr. Ksepka and his colleagues have discovered provide clues about migration patterns and the diversity of penguin species.

Click the Title to view all of our Pizza Lunch Podcasts!


Subscribe to Free eNewsletters!

  • Sigma Xi SmartBrief:

    A free daily summary of the latest news in scientific research. Each story is summarized concisely and linked directly to the original source for further reading.

  • American Scientist Update

  • An early peek at each new issue, with descriptions of feature articles, columns, Science Observers and more. Every other issue contains links to everything in the latest issue's table of contents.

  • Scientists' Nightstand

  • News of book reviews published in American Scientist and around the web, as well as other noteworthy happenings in the world of science books.

    To sign up for automatic emails of the American Scientist Update and Scientists' Nightstand issues, create an online profile, then sign up in the My AmSci area.


EMAIL TO A FRIEND :

Of Possible Interest

Book Review: Sex, Lies, and Misconceptions

Book Review: Living Color

Book Review: Keeping the Holmes Fires Burning

Subscribe to American Scientist