Date of Award

Spring 4-1-2021

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Psychology

First Advisor

Clark, Margaret

Abstract

Emotional expressions play a substantive role in building and maintaining high-functioning close relationships (Algoe et al., 2013; Gable et al., 2004). However, it is not clear from existing work whether the ways in which we express emotion, specifically through verbal and nonverbal channels, might be impacting how relationships are built and maintained. In the four chapters of this dissertation, one of which provides a review of the literature within a theoretical framework and three of which are empirical, I explore the different functions these channels might have for building relationships with a particular focus on identifying how verbal and nonverbal channels are operating within highly satisfied and committed relationships. In the first chapter, I outline how verbal emotional expressions, because they are clear and undeniable, may signal that an expresser is vulnerable and is sharing their emotion intentionally, whereas nonverbal expressions may signal that an emotion is genuinely felt as well as the intensity of that emotion. I then evaluate this framework empirically, finding evidence that verbal emotional expressions are perceived to be intentional and sincere and that nonverbal expressions are also perceived to be sincere. I next examine the links between these channels of expression and their potential relational antecedents and consequences, finding that an expresser’s responsiveness and trust in the partner predict both their verbal and nonverbal expression in established, highly satisfied romantic relationships. Intriguingly, I also find unexpected evidence for the importance of relational context in that expressers are helped most (and marginally liked the most) when they express nervousness nonverbally without an accompanying verbal expression in a newly initiated relationship. In sum, this dissertation provides evidence for some differential functions of verbal and nonverbal expressions for building relationships and indicates the need to more deeply examine this distinction.

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