Human Nonverbal Courtship Behavior-A Brief Historical Review
Moore, Monica M., The Journal of Sex Research
There's a language in her eye, her cheek, her lip; Nay, her foot speaks. Her wanton spirits look out at every joint and motive of her body. (Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida, Act IV, Scene 5, Line 55)
In this scene from a play by Shakespeare, in which the courtship of Troilus and Cressida unfolds, romantic interest is being conveyed through nonverbal communication. Many experts (Davis, 1971; Eibl-Eibesfeldt, 1971; Mehrabian, 1972; Noller, 2006) have argued that nonverbal behaviors are central not only to the expression of love in established relationships, but also to the expression of romantic or sexual interest during courtship. Cate and Lloyd (1992) argued for a broad definition of courtship in their book of the same name, including relationships that progress to marriage, as well as those that end before marriage (i.e., dating). Their view of courtship is one that sees relationships evolving through interactions between partners who are also influenced by the culture and historical context in which they live. Furthermore, Cate and Lloyd saw the entire process of courtship as inherently interesting for study by scientists. Their work on courtship focused on its history and the models that have been offered to explain interpersonal attraction; they did not address the role of nonverbal behavior. Instead, Cate and Lloyd offered an interpersonal process model that integrates different levels of causes to understand the interaction of partners during courtship.
Nevertheless, as so elegantly portrayed by Shakespeare (1986), there are a group of facial expressions and gestures that are part of human courtship and are commonly labeled "flirting behaviors" by scientists and nonscientists alike. Flirting is defined as "to play at courtship: act the lover without serious intent" (Merriam-Webster's New International Dictionary, 2002, p. 871) and can be exhibited through both verbal and nonverbal behaviors. Yet Remland (2009) pointed out that, in the absence of conflicting cues, flirtatious expressions and gestures usually communicate some romantic aspiration. The ambiguous nature of nonverbal communication may convey an advantage to the user, however. Scientists, such as Perper (1989) and Buss and Schmitt (1993), argued that an indirect system, such as one that relies on subtle nonverbal cues, gives individuals an opportunity to assess potential romantic or sexual partners before committing themselves.
With almost 50 years of systematic investigation and continued fascination with the role flirting plays in the scope of human sexuality, it seems a good time to review the evolution of our understanding of nonverbal courtship signaling in humans. In this article, I have several goals. First, I briefly introduce the dominant theories guiding the research methodologies employed to study nonverbal courtship behaviors. Second, I present the literature dealing with the nonverbal aspects of human courtship behavior, focusing particularly on the initial stages, indicating interest in or sexual attraction to a potential partner. I include some studies of how non-verbal behaviors may aid in the maintenance of a relationship or lead to the initiation of sexual behaviors, such as intercourse. In this regard, most of the research in the area of nonverbal courtship signaling is focused on heterosexuals, but I discuss what little work has been done on homosexuals. Third, as part of this review, I point out the functional significance that nonverbal courtship behaviors may have in not only initiating or maintaining sexual or romantic interest, but also in giving power to the user or increasing fun in the relationship, to name examples.
I have elected to review the investigation of human courtship behavior chronologically because an historical approach will best display both the progress that has been made investigating this topic, as well as territory yet to be explored. As is common in science, …
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Publication information: Article title: Human Nonverbal Courtship Behavior-A Brief Historical Review. Contributors: Moore, Monica M. - Author. Journal title: The Journal of Sex Research. Volume: 47. Issue: 2-3 Publication date: March-June 2010. Page number: 171+. © 2007 Taylor & Francis Group, LLC. COPYRIGHT 2010 Gale Group.
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