Multimodal Communication

The group comprises researchers who explore a range of interactional and communicational behaviour, using both experimental and qualitative methods, and includes researchers from neuroscience, cognitive, developmental and social psychology. The research of this group offers a major reconceptualisation of human communication, by recognising and prioritising the multimodality of communication. Research focuses on the close connections between gestures, speech and thinking in linguistic generation, speech and nonverbal communication in impression formation in courtrooms, multimodal communication in autism, multimodality in the digital age, the neuroscientific basis of processing multimodal messages etc.

Members of the group focus on a range of different genres of communication, such as online communication, political discourse, communication in socio-legal and work contexts, communication in instruction and learning, communication in clinical settings, communication in negotiation and decision-making etc. The group has both a theoretical and an applied focus, with particular emphasis on identifying communicational features and strategies that are effective in different social, political and cultural contexts. Much of the research is Interdisciplinary in nature involving important collaborations with linguistics, semiotics, criminology, computer science, education and health.

Key achievements are several books and monographs that have changed both academic and public understanding of human communication e.g. ‘Rethinking Body Language’ (Routledge), ‘The Conflicted Mind’ (Routledge) and which have attracted major international interest, in terms of both foreign translations and reviews, major public engagement activities, prestigious public and academic keynotes including at the Museum of London (on behalf of Gresham College), and at the launch of the new International Multimodal Communication Centre at Oxford School of Global and Area Studies (OSGA), University of Oxford, October 2019.


Research Spotlight


Examples of research

Interpersonal Perception Accuracy

Dr Helen Wall is leading this area of research in which she is explores the accuracy of personality judgements based on first impressions. Within this, she is exploring what behaviours are key to the accuracy of these personality judgements and how different contexts impact upon these.  Here, she is finding that different contexts vary in cue availability (i.e., email, social-networking sites, telephone, face-to-face) and thus shape our first impressions of others. We have recently found that certain online behaviours play a role in certain trait judgements, although these are not always accurate.

Online Behaviour and Interpersonal Perceptions

Dr Linda Kaye and Dr Helen Wall explore the psychological and contextual correlates of particular online behaviours (e.g., emoji usage), as well as understanding how these impact upon personality judgements. Within this, they have recently found personality correlates of emoji use on social networking sites, as well as users’ smiley emojis being associated with a number of positive personality judgements. They are currently furthering this area of enquiry by exploring other online behaviours and the impact these have on personality judgements.

Emotional processing of emoji

Dr Linda Kaye work is currently exploring the the emotional processing of emoji, and how this corresponds to language. Specifically, it is aiming to establish the extent to which emoji are actually processed emotionally. Further will be exploring perceptual relationships between space and properties of sound with emoji. This project is in collaboration with colleagues at the Autonomous University of Madrid, Spain, Griffith University, Australia and Nottingham Trent University, UK.

Joint performance

Dr Helen Wall in collaboration with Prof. Bernhard Hommel from Leiden University, and Dr Motonori Yamaguchi from Essex University explore the cognitive representations underlying joint performance.  In a series of experiments, they have tested a claim that co-acting individuals share a mental representation of the task (co-representation) in order to coordinate actions in a joint task in a series of experiments.  Little evidence has been obtained to support co-representation under the condition that co-acting individuals have separate action goals (e.g., pressing keys).  However, a new study has provided evidence for shared representations if co-actors share action goals.  The project further investigates what aspects of co-actors’ task representations are actually shared between actors in a joint task as well as what factors contribute to shared task representations.  The researchers hope that the investigation will reveal how to improve joint performance in everyday activities

Group and Individual Decision Making in Judicial Contexts

Dr Joyce Humphries and Dr Helen Wall have recently received funding to investigate the role of defendant and juror characteristics on judgements of guilt and attributions of blame. The overarching objective of this research is to develop our theoretical understanding of jury decision making processes by exploring individual (personality factors), social (group processes) and psychological factors (such as mental illness stigma). Specifically, our work will examine the influence of mental illness type on judgements of guilt and attributions of blame in student and community groups.

Rethinking Body Language

Professor Geoff Beattie’s research on multimodal communication has shown that spontaneous iconic gestures are an integral part of speaking and convey core parts of the underlying semantic message. His book ‘Rethinking Body Language’ challenges the established orthodoxy that verbal language and nonverbal communication are separate modalities of communication, instead arguing that they are fundamentally interconnected. His research shows that gestural movements convey core aspects of underlying thinking. The book describes how communication, including television advertisements (in collaboration with ITV) can be made more effective by incorporating iconic gestures. Moreover, since we have little conscious awareness of these movements, these gestural movements can be useful diagnostically for revealing aspects of underlying psychological state. The form and ‘meaning’ of these gestures may not match the accompanying speech and these gesture-speech mismatches can indicate both deception and implicit-explicit attitudinal dissociation. The overarching theoretical position on nonverbal communication is that it is dynamic, intimately connected with verbal communication, and often reflects aspects of thinking that are not articulated in the speech itself

In the News

Our research has been well received nationally and internationally through the National Press as well as media outlets such as The Conversation.

Geoff Beattie’s book Rethinking Body Language: How Hand Movements Reveal Hidden Thoughts was licensed by Post & Telecom Press for publication in Chinese in 2020. Details here:

Geoff Beattie’s novel ‘The Body’s Little Secrets’ (Gibson Square) was reviewed in Semiotica in 2019 by Professor Marcel Danesi from the University of Toronto who wrote:

"‘With his latest novel, Dr. Geoffrey Beattie can now be projected onto the same international platform as the late Umberto Eco, who became famous for integrating semiotic theory with fiction, starting with his bestseller, The Name of the Rose….”There is little doubt, in my estimation at least, that Geoffrey Beattie is Umberto Eco’s successor, displaying an uncanny and ingenious ability to blend his insightful work on nonverbal semiotics with an exceptional sense for narrative in this outstanding roman-a-clef…The theorist and writer crystallize seamlessly in this absolutely wonderful page-turner.”"

Professor Marcel Danesi

Geoff Beattie gave a keynote on the importance of rethinking body language and the implications of this for counselling at Forum Business Media’s National Counselling and Psychotherapy Conference, London, March 2020.

The Times Education Supplement (TES) did a major article on Beattie’s research on gesture (and its relevance to the teaching profession (‘What body language can do to aide learning’) in 2019.

Geoff Beattie was consultant and on-screen contributor for BBC Bitesize in 2019 on a campaign aimed at younger teenagers on ‘Healthy Relationships’. He made four films for the campaign, all around body language and implicit communication (‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’, ‘When does flirty become creepy’, ‘Body language tips for dating success’ and ‘The body language of love’). The campaign paralleled ‘Love Island’ and involved several contestants from both the current series and previous series of ‘Love Island’.

The Conversation- What psychology can tell us about why some people don’t wear masks – and how to change their minds– By Dr Helen Wall, Dr Alex Balani and Dr Derek Larkin

The Conversation- You can tell more about a person from their Facebook page than by actually meeting them– By Dr Linda Kaye & Dr Helen Wall

The Conversation- What your emojis say about you– By Dr Linda Kaye, Dr Helen Wall & Dr Stephanie Malone

The Conversation- The psychology behind Trump’s awkward handshake … and how to beat him at his own game– By Professor Geoff Beattie

The Conversation- How Donald Trump bullies with his body language- By Professor Geoff Beattie

The Conversation- Why you’re better at whistling than singing– By Dr Michel Belyk

Professor Geoff Beattie joined Russia’s Central Television program to discuss: “Analysing politicians’ body language”

Get Involved!

Want to take part in our exciting research? We are always looking for keen research participants! You can sign up to our studies through our online SONA system.

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