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Nonverbal meaning is meaning ascribed to nonverbal inputs, for example gesture, dance, architecture, clothes on washing lines. It differs from nonverbal communication.

Symbol and metaphor

The decoding of such information depends in part on understanding or socially constructing the symbolic systems underlying the production of the material, and the significance of metaphorical content embedded consciously or unconsciously by the producers of the inputs.

Effects of neurological deficits on understanding nonverbal meaning

Nonverbal meaning in psychosis

In psychosis part of peoples difficulty may be that they read a meaning into objects. For example, the colour and order of clothes on a washing line may signal the winner of the general election, or a horse race or the imminent arrival of aliens.

See also

Further reading


  • Brannon, E. M., & Roitman, J. D. (2003). Nonverbal representations of time and number in animals and human infants. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.
  • Haskell, R. (2001). Deep listening: Uncovering the hidden meanings in everyday conversation. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Publishing.
  • McLaughlin, J. T. (1989). The relevance of infant observational research for the analytic understanding of adult patients' nonverbal behaviors. Madison, CT: International Universities Press, Inc.
  • McNeill, D. (2005). Gesture and thought. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
  • Mehrabian, A. (2008). Communication without words. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers
  • Rapoport, A. (1988). Levels of meaning in the built environment. Ashland, OH: Hogrefe & Huber Publishers.


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  • Bucci, W. (1984). Linking words and things: Basic processes and individual variation: Cognition Vol 17(2) Jul 1984, 137-153.
  • Buller, D. B., & Aune, R. K. (1987). Nonverbal cues to deception among intimates, friends, and strangers: Journal of Nonverbal Behavior Vol 11(4) Win 1987, 269-290.
  • Crowe, S. F. (1997). Deterioration in the production of verbal and nonverbal material as a function of time is contingent upon the meaningfulness of the items: Archives of Clinical Neuropsychology Vol 12(7) 1997, 661-666.
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