Much research and debate has been done to discover whether non-verbal signals are inborn, learned, genetically transferred or acquired in some other way. Evidence was collected from observation of blind and/or deaf people who could not have learned nonverbal signals through the auditory or visual channels, from observing the gestural behaviour of many different cultures around the world and from studying the behaviour of our nearest anthropological relatives, the apes and monkeys.
The conclusions of this research indicate that some gestures fall into each category. For example, most primate children are born with the immediate ability to suck, indicating that this is either inborn or genetic. The German scientist Eibl-Eibesfeldt found that the smiling expressions of children born deaf and blind occur independently of learning or copying, which means that these must also be inborn gestures. Ekman, Friesen and Sorenson supported some of Darwin's original beliefs about inborn gestures when they studied the facial expressions of people from five widely different cultures. They found that each culture used the same basic facial gestures to show emotion, which led them to the conclusion that these gestures must be inborn.
When you cross your arms on your chest, do you cross left over right or right over left? Most people cannot confidently describe which way they do this until they try it. Where one way feels comfortable, the other feels completely wrong. Evidence suggests that this may well be a genetic gesture that cannot be changed.
Debate still exists as to whether some gestures are culturally learned and become habitual, or are genetic. For example, most men put on a coat right arm first; most women put it on left arm first. When a man passes a woman in a crowded street, he usually turns his body towards her as he passes; she usually turns her body away from him. Does she instinctively do this to protect her breasts? Is this an inborn female reaction or has she learned to do this by unconsciously watching other females?
Much of our basic non-verbal behaviour is learned and the meaning of many movements and gestures is culturally determined. Let us now look at these aspects of body language.
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