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.