Domestic Abuse: Nonverbal Communication

Domestic Abuse: Nonverbal Communication

By: Tessa McAuley

November 18, 2013

The following video is a public service announcement broadcasted by the nonprofit organization: National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. This video uses powerful nonverbal cues to communicate the importance of domestic abuse to the American public. The commercial depicts a young, abused woman trying to cover up her marks and bruises; however when she tries to ignore the abuse, the women’s face becomes even more severely bruised and beaten.  Near the end of the commercial, a sentence pops up that reads “it rarely stops” and the women turns in fear to an unknown individual coming into the house. The announcement uses three forms of nonverbal communication, in particular, to gain the attention of the viewers. These would include: the six universal emotions, neurophysiological processing and negative touch.

Six Universal Emotions:

According to Ekman, there are six universal emotions shown culturally all around the world; these would include: “happiness, sadness, fear, anger, surprise, and disgust” (Ekman, 1971). During the course, one had to identify which face went with which emotion. The woman in the commercial has a furrowed brow, bags under her eyes and a slight frown; all of these expressions point to the emotion of sadness. When viewing the public service announcement, one feels the pain of the woman and can see the helplessness in her eyes. At the end of the commercial, an unknown individual comes in the house and the woman expresses the emotion of fear; this would include: a furrowed-raised brow, tense eyes, and slightly stretched out open mouth. One could assume by the expression on the woman’s face that the abuser is coming back to punish the young woman once more. All of these facial expressions make the viewers feel empathy for the woman or maybe even feel the relatability of her pain. The commercial allows those experiencing abuse to feel comfort in not being alone and to maybe see the severity of the situation to finally get help.

Neurophysiological Processing:

Neurophysiological processes can be related to the metaphor of a computer: “neurophysiological aspects are the ‘hardware’ of the message processing, whereas the processes themselves are the ‘software’”(Burgoon, Guerrero & Floyd, 2009). This can be further explained through sensory stimulation, which is the process our brains go through while encoding and decoding an image. Thus, the image of the woman in the commercial has a sensory stimulation on the viewer’s brain that makes the individual see the cruelty of domestic abuse. Due to the human race being intelligent, one is allowed to perceive the stimulus of the commercial to feel the pain of the individual. One can further relate this to the common phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words” because the viewer is allowed to process the nonverbal cues in the image to create their own perception of the situation or event.

Negative Touch:

Negative touch can be defined as any form of touch that could be seen as inappropriate to others or harmful in anyway. This could include sexual abuse to domestic abuse shown in the above video. According to a national survey, “16% of married couples experience physical violence within a given year, and surveys of high school students suggest that somewhere between 12% and 36% of these students have enacted or experienced physical violence in a dating relationship” (Christopher & Lloyd, 2001). These staggering statistics show that domestic abuse is quite common throughout the world and must be addressed to lower these statistics. During the course, one was able to see the importance of touch and how lack of touch could correlate to death. With the importance of touch being so high, it is easy for one to see that the woman in the commercial is receiving negative touch from another being due to the bruises and marks she is receiving. These depictions of negative touch in the commercial also correlate to the overall message that one needs to reach help by the hotline at the end of the commercial or through another medium of safety.


The information given shows some of the nonverbal cues shown in the public service announcement entitled: Coalition Against Battered Women- Domestic Abuse. These would include: the six universal emotions, neurophysiological processing and negative touch. It is important for one to realize the nonverbal cues they consume in the media in order to create a well-executed perception of the images being seen. The overall message I would like one to get out of the presentation is the importance of being aware of domestic abuse and how nonverbal communication can help save lives.



Erke, K. (Director) (n.d.). Coalition against battered women:domestic abuse [Web]. Retrieved from

Ekman, P. (1971). Universal and cultural differences in facial expressions of emotion. In J. K. Cole (Ed.), Nebraska symposium on motivation (pp. 207-283). Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Burgoon, J. K., Guerrero, L. K., & Floyd, K. (2009). Nonverbal communication. (1st ed., p. 509 pages). Pearson Education, Inc.

Christopher, F. S., & Lloyd, S. A. (2001). Physical and sexual aggression in relationships. In C. Hendrick & S. S. Hendrick (Eds.), Close relationships (pp. 331-343). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

STOP: Domestic Violence [Print Photo]. Retrieved from×214.png


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