4.17.2010

The Eye Roll

In a strange place to find a discussion of nonverbal communication, an article in Better Homes and Gardens (May, 2010)discusses the eye roll, eye movements--used by tweens especially and by girls more than boys, says author Rachel Simpson--that indicate disapproval or disdain for something just said. We're all familiar with this behavior. It can even be seen in lots of college students when they don't like something the instructor says. So, I thought I'd take a look at the nonverbal textbooks I have on my shelf and see what they say about this nonverbal behavior that has significant implications for all stages of interpersonal relationships and for communication generally. I looked in Burgoon, Guerrero, and Floyd's Nonverbal Communication; Ivy and Wahl's The Nonverbal Self; Remland's Nonverbal Communication in Everyday Life; Leathers and Eaves' Successful Nonverbal Communication; Richmond, McCroskey, and Hickson's Nonverbal Behavior in Interpersonal Relations; Guerrero and Hecht's The Nonverbal Communication Reader; Kuhnke's Body Language for Dummies; and Andersen's The Complete Idiot's Guide to Body Language. In none of them was the eye role mentioned (at least according to their indexes and a cursory scan of the eye communication sections). How come?
Here's one suspicion. Authors of specialized textbooks such as nonverbal communication are so intent on summarizing the literature that they fail to look at how communication operates in the real world. A good mix is what we need in nonverbal communication and in communication generally.

4 comments:

maestra said...

I have to agree with Joe that any book that deals specifically with Nonverbal Communication should include a section on the subject, “eye rolling.” As Joe points out, it is a nonverbal behavior used among teens, as well as by students in our classrooms. Sometimes the reason for “eye rolling” can be as simple as embarrassment on the part of the student or teen and is really not meant to be disrespectful or a put down to the speaker. The use of eye rolling also goes much further than suggested by the article to which Joe refers, as Joe also points out. Eye rolling is used by spouses attending couples’ counseling in response to something their partners have said to the therapist. It is used in interviews, by both interviewers and interviewees, and is also used by political candidates during televised debates. Most of us recall the 2000 debate between Al Gore and George W. Bush when Gore rolled his eyes while his opponent George W. Bush was speaking. Gore’s “eye rolling” caused political analysts to have a field day concerning his nonverbal behavior and also undermined his credibility in the eyes of potential voters. Fox News host, Chris Wallace, was recently accused of rolling his eyes after an interview he conducted with former Alaska governor/presidential candidate, Sarah Palin. His nonverbal behavior was interpreted as him saying to his friends that he did not believe she was a serious person. “Eye rolling” is thus a real world type of nonverbal communication that needs to be acknowledged as such by the writers of books in the field. It is important, however, that any text or comprehensive work on nonverbal communication, which does include a section on “eye rolling,” also indicates that there is a difference between eye rolling which is voluntary and eye rolling which is involuntary. Some individuals simply have motor tics or other eye or vision disorders which cause them to roll their eyes during interpersonal communication. I have a sister-in-law who falls into this category. For others, eye rolling, although seemingly voluntary, may be a culturally based nonverbal behavior. I have read, for example, that some African Americans use eye rolling in response to questions which they deem to be inappropriate. So it is important for a speaker to understand that sometimes eye rolling on the part of a listener is not done to show disrespect or disdain for him/her or what he/she is saying. Sometimes there is an underlying medical or cultural reason for this behavior and so, to avoid conflict, the speaker needs to accurately assess the situation to determine what the nonverbal act of eye rolling on the part of the listener is really meant to communicate.

Jackson Smith said...

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Andrew Rancer said...

The Eye Roll is a very important nonverbal behavior. Rancer, Lin, Durbin, & Faulkner (2010) found the eye roll to be one of the most ubiquitous and hurtful forms of nonverbal "verbal" aggression.

Tanya Page Jones said...

I think the reason it is not mentioned in a lot of the textbooks regarding non-verbal communication is because it’s generally very rude. I imagine that giving someone the middle finger or putting your hand up (palm-side out) as if to say shut up is not in the text books either. My mother smacked me upside the head from the front seat of the car when I was thirteen and I never did it to her again. Kids giving another person a “raspberry” is also non-verbal communication but is not listed anywhere as an acceptable behavior