Electronic Theses and Dissertations





Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy




Experimental Psychology

Committee Chair

Roger J Kreuz

Committee Member

Kristine M Markman

Committee Member

Rick A. C. Dale

Committee Member

Max Louwerse


Research in face-to-face communication indicates that nonverbal cues such as facial expression, prosody, and gesture are significant for interpreting the emotional content of a message. The lack of these nonverbal cues in computer-mediated communication (CMC) suggests a high possibility of miscommunication. However, recent research shows that interlocutors using CMC adapt to the lack of visual and vocal cues in the channel and are able to express themselves with the use of text-based nonverbal cues and word choice. Yet the manner in which many nonverbal cues are used in computer-mediated communication is still unknown, as is the relationship between nonverbal and verbal cues in text-only environments.In the studies reported here, the relationship between emotion expression and nonverbal cues such as emoticons, asterisks, and repeating exclamation points in CMC composition and interpretation is examined. Borrowing from semiotic theory, cues are grouped as iconic (i.e., physically resembling their implication, such as :-) for a smiling face), indexical (i.e., indirectly connected to their implications, such as !!! for an exaggerated exclamation), and symbolic (i.e., implications must be learned, such as asterisks for prosodic change). Nonverbal cues are also examined in the light of communication other than emotion expression, such as clarifying a message or giving perspective.In a series of eight experiments involving surveys, email generation, email and listserv post interpretation, and transcription, participants indicate that nonverbal cues are closely intertwined in meaning to verbal cues; that is, the type of nonverbal cue being used carries specific interpretations, and the verbal content of the message allows a reader to choose from among the possible implications. Nonverbal cues are principally used to signal emotion and emphasize verbal content, and are strongly related to prosody in speech. The communication goals that nonverbal cues fulfill are strongly related to their semiotic group. However, there is a discrepancy between what the writer intends when using nonverbal cues and what the reader interprets upon seeing the nonverbal cues. These results are discussed in the context of several assumptions about nonverbal cues made in prior research, including that of research on emoticons and additive effects of nonverbal cues.


Data is provided by the student.

Library Comment

Dissertation or thesis originally submitted to the local University of Memphis Electronic Theses & dissertation (ETD) Repository.