Perceptual Processing of Nonverbal-Relational Messages
Sandi W. Smith
Michigan State University
The premises that humans live in worlds of their own psychological construction and are active, goal-directed social agents undergird cognitive research in communication and psychology ( Athay & Darley, 1981; Axley, 1984; Bruner, 1983, 1986; Cody & McLaughlin, 1985; Delia, 1977; Endler, 1982; Greene, 1984; Magnusson & Endler, 1977; Mischel, 1977; Planalp & Hewes, 1982; Rumelhart & Ortony; 1977; Schneider, 1983). If these premises are accepted, communication scholars must address how these separate worlds are constructed, maintained, changed, and enmeshed with the worlds of others through communication. In this view, humans are more than passive receivers of, and responders to, stimuli from the environment. The environment is a function of the perceiver in the sense that the perceiver's cognitive system filters and organizes its own representation of the environment. It is on the basis of social knowledge contained in this representation that humans both interpret and engage in communication to understand, predict, and control their environments ( Hewes & Planalp, 1982; Ostrom, 1984). It is important to examine (a) the structures in which social knowledge is represented; (b) the content of these structures; and (c) the cognitive processes that operate as social knowledge is acquired, retained, altered, and acted on as a result of the communication process.
The study of interpersonal communication from a cognitive perspective focuses on the representation and utilization of relational knowledge as interactants interpret and produce relational messages ( Planalp, 1989). The focus of this chapter is on the interpretation of relational communication, or input processing,