As the tongue speaketh to the ear

As the tongue speaketh* to the ear, so the gesture speaketh to the eye (Bacon, 1605/2001, Book II, IX, p. 2).

Dear All,
We are so used to words that sometimes we may overlook nonverbal means of communication. The quote above by famous naturalist Sir Francis Bacon point at the importance of gestures. Indeed, the number of neurons leading from the ear to the brain is seventeen times less that the number of neurons leading from the eye to the brain. This may result in the way we process information and the intensity of our experience.

There exists an old proverb, “Seeing is believing”. As with many other old truths, modern science proves the validity of this fact. According to recent studies in nonverbal communication, if there is a mismatch between what a speaker says and what he shows, we are more likely to believe what he shows. For example, if a speaker is saying that a gas station is located to the south and is pointing to the north, we are more likely to believe that it is, in reality, located to the north (the direction in which the speaker is pointing). Of course, in this situation we may ask the speaker to confirm the direction, however, this is not always possible. If it is impossible or if we are in doubt concerning the validity of a verbal statement it may be worth paying attention to the nonverbal message. Nonverbal means of communication can help us to understand if a speaker is confident, whether he is worried or not, and to comprehend better what he desires to inform us about.

Thus, gestures and other nonverbal means may reveal something about what is being communicated and the communicator (e.g. if a person needs support). At the same time it is necessary to note that even with nonverbal means of communication we may make a mistake and, therefore, one should be cautious about making any judgements.

Bacon, F. (2001). The advancement of learning. New York: Modern Library. [Original published in 1605].

* “Speakth” is the archaic form of “speaks”.



  1. vidya v

    If a person is avoiding eye contact, is he lying or he is just too shy to look at the eye??

    • vidya v!

      It is an excellent question. Whenever we judge a communicative situation, it is very important that we consider both micro and macro contexts (Context and appropriateness).

      Now speaking about the macro (sociocultural) context, does this person come from a western culture where a constant eye contact is typically maintained during a conversation? If so, his/her avoidance of eye contact may indicate that the person is telling a lie.

      However, if the person comes from culture where avoiding eye contact is a norm (e.g. when speaking to a boss), then his/her avoidance of eye contact may indicate respect towards the interlocutor.

      I have a question for you: if a person comes from culture where it is a norm to avoid eye contact (this is what s/he is doing in this conversation) and you know that s/he is untruthful, how can you see this from his/her body language or other cues?

      • vidya v

        That person may look nervous or stutter too much with his words????

      • vidya v, Great points! Yes, there are other verbal and nonverbal cues that may reveal deceit.

        However, let’s be careful. We can form our opinion, but we should avoid blaming or, on the contrary, justifying people based on our personal judgement. Otherwise we may get in trouble and hurt the other person.

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