Ever heard that statistic that only 7% of information in communication is conveyed by the words, 38% by voice tone, and 55% by body language? Well, it’s not strictly true.

The original experiments by psychologist Albert Mehrabian have been taken wildly out of context. These web pages set the record straight:

http://www.neurosemantics.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=375&Itemid=199
http://www.linguistlist.org/issues/12/12-1332.html

(Edit June 9 2009) More recently, Olivia Mitchell has written what I regard as the best article yet debunking the 7%-38%-55% myth.

And from Mehrabian’s own web page at http://www.kaaj.com/psych/smorder.html, he makes the point that his original experiments were about feelings and attitudes:
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“Total Liking = 7% Verbal Liking + 38% Vocal Liking + 55% Facial Liking

Please note that this and other equations regarding relative importance of verbal and nonverbal messages were derived from experiments dealing with communications of feelings and attitudes (i.e., like-dislike). Unless a communicator is talking about their feelings or attitudes, these equations are not applicable.

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(Edit 9th June 2009) Again, Olivia Mitchell’s follow-up article ‘The secondary misinterpretation of Mehrabian’s research’ makes it clear the the ‘liking’, feelings and attitudes mentioned by Mehrabian are the listener’s perception of how the speaker feels – not how the listener feels about the speaker.

I could have sworn that there was also an article on the Fast Company web site debunking the use of these statistics out of context, but apparently not. I must have been thinking of the “Yale goal-setting study” (quoted by Anthony Robbins among many others) which seems to have never actually happened.

This post originally appeared in my first primitive attempt at a self-hosted blog way back in 2004. The original blog has vanished like the lost continent of Atlantis, but I’ll salvage anything I think is worthwhile and repost it here.

7%, 38%, 55% – the facts

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