An examination of nonverbal behavioral reciprocity in nondistressed marital partners



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Texas Tech University


Behavioral reciprocity, as a lawful pattern of dyadic interaction, was investigated using an experimental design which allowed direct manipulation of couple interaction. As a result, specific behaviors were altered and a measure of reciprocity between marital partners obtained, More specifically, during a sequence of dyadic interaction, the frequency of touch by one spouse was manipulated to increase, and the subsequent behavior by the other spouse was observed to increase. Also monitored, but not manipulated, were the nonverbal behaviors of headnod and smile. Forty nondistressed couples were used in the study; each couple was randomly assigned to either the experimental (N=20) or control (N=20) condition. Subjects were predominantly young, well educated, white, and married an average of seven years. Couples in both conditions were asked to play a word game during two ten-minute video tapings. Following the first taping, one spouse was randomly selected by sex to receive additional instructions from the investigator. Selected spouses in the control condition were read a neutral statement, whereas selected spouses in the experimental condition were asked to increase nonobstrusive touching during the final ten minute taping. A series of ANCOVA and ANOVA procedures between experimental and control conditions analyzing the tapings resulted in several significant findings. First, reciprocity was found for touch. Second, generalizability of emission of nonverbal behaviors was demonstrated when manipulated spouses in the experimental condition increased smiles concurrent with touches. Third, similar to touches, this increase in smiles was reciprocated, Finally, headnods did not increase concurrently either with the increase in touches and smiles, or with the increase in reciprocated touches and smiles. A possible explanation for this differential response across nonverbals was forwarded.