Perhaps the best-known numbers within the communication field are those that claim the total meaning of a message is “7 percent verbal, 38 percent vocal, and 55 percent facial.” Despite the fact that this finding is derived from two 1967 studies with serious methodological limitations, these percentages have appeared in a wide variety of communication textbooks. This study takes the investigation a step further, beyond the academic environment, to determine if the 7-38-55 “formula” has now become the equivalent of an “urban legend” about communication in our society-at-large. Overall, this article finds that the formula in question has been widely disseminated across the Internet, and in ways that show little or no understanding of the research that generated these numbers. Given the widespread ignorance reflected in how these numbers are used—and abused—we as communication educators must consider how we should respond and what we can do to correct such misperceptions.
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Lapakko, D. (2007). Communication is 93% Nonverbal: An Urban Legend Proliferates. Communication and Theater Association of Minnesota Journal, 34, 7-19.