No Image Available

Seb Anthony

Read more from Seb Anthony

googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display(‘div-gpt-ad-1705321608055-0’); });

Non-verbal communications – how did Mehrabian get those percentages?


Having been challenged about this in a training session on communication skills, I am keen to find out about the background research to the 7% / 38% / 55% figures on the impact of verbal and non-verbal communication.
Rachel Hopkins

5 Responses

  1. Not what it seems

    In a nutshell, Mehrabian and his co-worker (S.R. Ferris) were testing how people resolved “inconsistent messages” (1967).

    From his book “Silent Messages” Mehrabian reports:

    “Generalizing, we can say that people’s implicit behaviour has more bearing than their words on communicating feelings or attitudes to others.

    Total feeling = 7% verbal feeling + 38% vocal feeling + 55% facial feeling”

    He explains elsewhere that the the “facial feeling” could include gestures, physical posture – in other words body language in general.

    Similar experiments were carried out in the UK (1971) by Argyle, Alkema and Gilmour (all one team) and got very similar results.

    Using Mehrabian’s research, the 7/38/55 figures are NOT necessarily valid IF:

    1. The information being given is factual.
    2. There is NO significant conflict between what is being said, the vocal characteristics and the non-verbal language.
    3. There is “extreme inconsistency” – in which case vocal signals will be given greater weight than visual cues.

    Having said that, if you can find the details, the most amazing demonstration of the “Mehrabian Effect” was an experiment involving a Dr Myron Fox. Fox was actually a medically unqualified actor who delivered a gobbledegook lecture to three sets of health/education professionals and wasn’t spotted till the experimenters explained what was going on (i.e. no-one challenged him).

    Course it might be argued that people in those professions talk so much hot air anyway … no, let’s not go down that road


  2. Aged data
    I am frequently challenged on the age of Mehrabian’s data. Its nearly 25 years old now, does anyone have anything newer or ways to overcome this objection?


  3. Taken on trust
    I think that should read “36” years old, Mark.

    I’ve not heard of anything later than the Argyle experiment (a boyish 32 years old), but on the other hand, though the experiment and the results are frequently misrepresented, I’ve not seen anything which contradicts Mehrabian and Argyle’s results, either (unless YOU know different, list members?).

    And fair dues, human psychology is relatively static, so is it really sensible to question the results SIMPLY on the grounds of age?


Get the latest from TrainingZone.

Elevate your L&D expertise by subscribing to TrainingZone’s newsletter! Get curated insights, premium reports, and event updates from industry leaders.

Thank you!