The environment and social and cultural artifacts are vital for understanding nonverbal communication. The environment refers to the physical place in which communication takes place. Artifacts are the objects in the environment that can provide some form of stimulus to the communicators. It is these concepts that provide the context for nonverbal communication. For both the environment and artifacts, there are a number of factors that can effect changes in how individuals communicate non-verbally.
Appropriateness is a factor of both the environment and the artifacts present in the environment. The environment and artifacts give clues as to what nonverbal behaviors are in and out of context. For example, in a Jewish household observing shiva, laughing is considered inappropriate, and thus individuals avoid exhibiting such behavior. Artifacts need not be in a specific environment to influence behavior either. For example, a wedding ring on a woman's finger indicates that making romantic or sexual propositions to her are inappropriate actions and should be avoided.
Climate is an environmental factor that affects not only an individual's nonverbal behavior but the nonverbal behavior of the native residents in a specific climate type. For example, for countries in the northern hemisphere, those residents living in the southern areas with hotter climates tend to use more body language and stronger facial expressions. Groups that have similar forms of nonverbal behavior tend to migrate to areas of specific climates. According to Peter Andersen, in his book "Nonverbal Communication: Forms and Functions," gays and lesbians tend to move to warmer climates, such as that of San Francisco, while certain musical groups tend to move to rainy and cold climates, such as the Pacific Northwest.
The word "microenvironment" refers to a local environment constructed by humans, such as gardens, patios and office spaces. The local environment itself as well as the artifacts contained in it communicate messages to people that influence the nonverbal communication of those present in the microenvironment. The temperature, lighting, color and sound all impact human nonverbal behavior. One example of such an influence is the replacement of a square classroom table with a circular one. This action increases classroom interaction.
The smell of an environment is an important factor in predicting how people will behave in it. Artifacts, such as breath spray, cologne and aftershave, can influence a person's nonverbal behavior. Scents trigger memories of the past and can be meaningful in different ways to different individuals. An example of how scent affects behavior is the addition of rotting food to an environment. This changes people's willingness to eat as well as influences their physical position in the environment.
- "Nonverbal Communication: Forms and Functions"; Peter Andersen; 2008
- "Nonverbal Communication: Where Nature Meets Culture"; Ullica Segerstrale and Peter Molnar; 1997
- Jupiterimages/Goodshoot/Getty Images