Communication accuracy refers to whether a message sent by a sender is perceived by the receiver to have the same emotional meaning intended by the sender. Previous research using marital dyads suggests that receivers sometimes receive the emotional meaning in senders’ statements differently than senders intend. The present study was conducted to test the possibility that one reason such misunderstandings occur is that senders may convey emotional messages differently than they intend. Twenty-four married couples carried on a ten-minute videotaped free interaction during which they rated the emotional meaning in each others’ statements. Results indicated that senders conveyed messages that were both more negative and more positive than they intended. As predicted, emotional mismatches, in which sender and receiver disagreed on how the sender was coming across, were associated with sender verbal-nonverbal incongruence. However, it was also found that matches, in which sender and receiver agreed on how the sender was coming across, were associated with incongruence. Contrary to prediction, when senders were incongruent, their verbal and not their nonverbal behavior correlated significantly with the impact on the receiver. The finding that receivers’ impact ratings correlated more with senders’ verbal than nonverbal behavior contradicts results from previous laboratory-based studies on the resolution of discrepant verbal and nonverbal signals. It suggests that nonverbal behavior may be best studied and interpreted in terms of its verbal context.
Van Buren, A. (2002). The relationship of verbal-nonverbal incongruence to communication mismatches in married couples. North American Journal of Psychology, 4(1), 21-36.