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On the Structuring of Human Communication Essay (Critical Writing)

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Updated: Nov 25th, 2021

Studying human behavior different researchers provided their theories, in which the models of behavior were broken down into the slightest components. In that regard, communication, as a part of any model, is a central aspect of human behavior. Accepting such notion, it can be assumed that the basis on which human communication is structured do not change with time, and thus the conclusions made based on the theoretical framework stemming form past researches should be applicable at the present time. Examining such assumptions, this paper analyzes the article “On the Structuring of Human Communication” (1967) by Albert Scheflen, relating the concepts introduced to the literature and their relevancy today.

Summary of the Article

The main idea in the article is in describing human communication in the form of multichannel behavior, in which a predictable sequence can be outlined. The interaction, in that regard, has specific components, which are a program, a social order, a number of communicating members, and a method of integrating the aforementioned (Scheflen, 1967). Thus, the interaction can be seen as a process of enacting a program effecting appropriate behavior. Understanding such notion, Scheflen, argues that enacting a program is not a mechanical procedure, where the different social roles within different programs for the participant might influence the selection process, and might be even confused. The engagement in communication implies performing the right parts in the appropriate programs, and within a recognizable range of variation, otherwise a miscommunication might occur (Scheflen, 1967).

Scheflen continues in outlining the channels that participate in the information exchange during the communication process. The outlined channels include language modalities such as linguistic modalities, e.g. lexical, stress, pitch and conjuncture, and paralinguistic, e.g. vocal modifiers and non language sounds, and non language modalities such as kinesic and postural, tactile, odorific, etc (Scheflen, 1967). In that regard, clarifying the interaction of these channels Scheflen provided examples of three orders of communicational behavior, which are the recognition of context, signals for integration, and metacommunication.


In order to clarify the concept introduced in the article, a glimpse into another work by Scheflen, where he discussed a model of courtship, so called quasi-courtship. Although published earlier than the present article, the application of the concepts present in the work on structuring human communication can be apparent. One example can be seen in the statement in the currently analyzed article, where Scheflen pointed out to that “messages in each channel may be quite unrelated or even antithetical” (Scheflen, 1967). Explaining quasi-courtship, Scheflen referred to such mismatch, where people in unrelated settings such as business meetings, schools, etc, use sexual signals without the intention to do so (Scheflen, 1965). Such signals are related to the non language modalities outlined in his 1967 works, where examples of such non verbal elements can either clarify the verbal part, or, as in quasi-courtship, might be unrelated to the context and are slightly differentiated from the intended objectives.

The issue of non verbal communication might have a wider interest in the theory of behavioral research, possibly due to the variation of the relation between non verbal communications and mainstream psychology. Tracing the changes in nonverbal communication research, it should be mentioned that despite the contributions made by each study to the general understanding of human communication, each researcher or group focused on different areas for their examination. Another note that should be taken is that at the time of first researches of non verbal communication, the topic was largely unknown, while starting form the 1970s, the increased information on psychology related to human communication brought the interest of the general public, which can be seen as a confounding factor in examining unintentional and pure behavior. Accordingly, the results of many researches were misinterpreted, and in that regard, taking the examples provided in Scheflen’s articles, non verbal channels were used to indicate bogus statements, such as “the idea that people who fold their arms across their chest are closed-minded, or the idea that people who unzip their jackets are literally opening up” (Hecht & Ambady, 1999). Additionally, changes in the area of focus included the shift from behavior to thoughts and internal processes, which were largely caused by the development in computer and information processing technologies in the early 1980s (Hecht & Ambady, 1999). In that regard, the importance of non verbal signals outlined by Scheflen was acknowledged, and many of his ideas were further explored, but nevertheless, it can be stated that some of them were untested. Taking for example such statement regarding the emotions as signals, where Scheflen stated that any behavior is at once “an expression of the individual and a communicative event” (Scheflen, 1967) However, a significant experiment by Kraunt and Johnston testing the association of smiles showed that it was more of a social act, rather than an expression of the individual (Hecht & Ambady, 1999).

In general, even with misinterpretation of the findings of Scheflen studies, including the non verbal communication, and the concept introduced in his study on courtship, it can be stated that his ideas are still applicable today, although when used intentionally as utilization of the theory in practice, the effectiveness is untested. An example can be seen in the development of the neurolinguistic programming (NLP), where people are taught to pay attention to non verbal communication signals (channels), a concept which is used in sales. Although the main concept was derived from Scheflen work, there is no support for such implementation through empirical investigation (Riggio & Feldman, 2005). The same can be said with other applications of non verbal communications, such as marketing and advertisements.

Additionally, it can be stated that the point of cultural influence in the human communication outlined in Scheflen’s work, were confirmed in other studies, although, too, they had little experimental evidence supporting the observations (Mehrabian, 2007). The point was that within the culture the configuration of communication is alike, while between the cultures they might vary (Scheflen, 1967).

Examining the concepts introduced in Scheflen article, it can be stated that generally, the findings of his study are still applicable in today’s context. In that regard, the increased interest in studying human communication, and specifically non verbal communication, by the general public, might have led to that many of the works misinterpret the results of Scheflen as well as other researchers’ works. In that regard, the main point of the multiple channels handling the information exchange, forming programs, and patterns of behavior, is the main basis of Scheflen’s work, while many other ideas, although used in practice lacked empirical observations, and remained untested.


Hecht, M. A., & Ambady, N. (1999). Nonverbal Communication and Psychology: Past and Future. The New Jersey Journal of Communication, 7(2). Web.

Mehrabian, A. (2007). Nonverbal communication. New Brunswick, NJ: Aldine Transaction.

Riggio, R. E., & Feldman, R. S. (2005). Applications of nonverbal communication. Mahwah, N.J.: L. Erlbaum Associates.

Scheflen, A. E. (1965). Quasi-courtship behavior in psychotherapy. Journal for the Study of Interpersonal Processes, 28(3), 245-257.

Scheflen, A. E. (1967). ON THE STRUCTURING OF HUMAN COMMUNICATION. The American Behavioral Scientist (pre-1986), 10(8), 8. Web.

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