The Big ‘Nonverbal’ Theory

The Big ‘Nonverbal’ Theory – Author: Hannah Tichacek

The popular culture artifact I have chosen is the television series The Big Bang Theory, on CBS.

This show began it’s first season in 2007 and is currently on it’s seventh, provided it’s great success. The show is based on 5 main characters in their late 20’s living in California. Roommates, Sheldon and Leonard and their friends/coworkers Raj and Howard, are the four super geniuses. Then there’s Penny, a waitress at the Cheesecake Factory and aspiring actress who moves in across the hall from Leonard and Sheldon. The boys bring their super nerdy quirks and the brains, while Penny brings the beauty, and often the humor.

One of the main characters Sheldon, who began college at the age of 11, is everything book smart and nothing street smart. You see him in multiple episodes going to Penny for advice, asking when and if things are sarcasm, how to talk to girls, and how to fake certain emotions. He needs to be taught in almost every episode a form of nonverbal communication that he does not comprehend or find useful. But, in order to properly function in society, they are things he must learn. For example, the following video clip portrays Leonard and Howard giving Sheldon tips on how to “fake” being happy for their friend Raj. Sheldon doesn’t understand the concept, but tries anyways to get the facial expression right in order to follow a social norm. Sheldon uses the power of facial expressions often to reiterate his points and leave no argument. The “Sheldon Cooper stare” is one that many characters receive if they sit in his acclaimed spot on the couch. Sometimes all it takes is a look from Sheldon, and the mistake is never made again.

Another nonverbal crisis we see throughout the show is within Rajesh Koothrappali, better known as Raj. He is a very shy character and he is physically unable to speak to women, unless he has drank alcohol. This serves as a problem often for Raj once Penny comes into the picture. He either cannot speak and must ignore her, play telephone through his friends if she addresses him, or has to have a drink in order to speak. Raj uses nonverbal cues like facial expressions and body language to get his problem across to women. They usually immediately assume he can’t speak english, or take it personally that he is ignoring them until another character enlightens them on his psychological issue. In the clip below, Sheldon’s new assistant is thrilled to meet someone in her own field and Leonard teases Raj’s problem, causing him to leave the table, leaving Alex confused and offended. 

Overall, this show is filled with nonverbal cues that didn’t stand out to me until this class, and especially after analyzing them with this post. There are more than I would have ever noticed on my own. From Sheldon’s stare, Raj’s incapability, Leonard’s pouting and Penny’s eye rolling, each character has a trademark nonverbal cue of their own and uses it in every single episode.


Image 1: Retrieved from

Video 1:

YoureinmyspotFBPAGE. (Producer) . (2011, August 6). Sheldon Smiles – The Big Bang Theory. Retrieved from

Video 2:

Kartik Mortan. (Producer) . (2012, October 14). Season 6, raj still cant talk to women…really funny… Retrieved from


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