Decoding effects of cognitive complexity, tolerance of ambiguity, and verbal–nonverbal inconsistency1


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    . This report is based on a thesis submitted by the author in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the M.A. degree from the University of Delaware. The author would like to thank Joel F. Gordon and Ralph V. Exline for their inspiration and guidance, Bruce Sterling for his help with the pilot work, and Denice Irwin, Sherry Wileski and Tae Im Moon for their work as confederates and judge.

Requests for reprints should be sent to Barbara B. Domangue, Department of Psychology, University of Delaware, Newark, Delaware 19711.


The effects of inconsistency between the verbal and nonverbal components of a message were investigated. Subjects were 72 females who rated the attitudes of encoding confederates who communicated either consistent or inconsistent messages. Verbal and nonverbal components were varied as either positive or negative and each of the four possible combinations served as an experimental condition. The nonverbal cues of amount of eye contact, postural orientation, forward–backward lean, and head nodding were found to influence the judgment of the total message. Verbal and nonverbal components were found to have interactive rather than additive effects. Inconsistent nonverbal cues had a stronger effect when accompanying a positive verbal message than when accompanying a negative verbal component.

The effects of decoders' levels of cognitive complexity and tolerance of ambiguity were also assessed. Evidence suggests that both complexity and ambiguity tolerance have effects on the utilization of inconsistent nonverbal cues. Low complexity/low tolerance subjects were less influenced by nonverbal cues in the positive verbal–negative nonverbal condition. These subjects were also found to differentiate less between supplied rating dimensions than other groups.