NONVERBAL COMMUNICATION IN “SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS” (Excerpt) / Mika Maruoka

Mickey Mouse is the most famous Disney character in the world. He is loved in many countries as a fictional character regardless of age or gender. Why is he loved so much? What are the differences between Mickey Mouse and a real mouse? Of course, the answers include his adorable appearance and body movement. He is always smiling and makes everyone happy with his comical movements. The joy on his face and movements tell us that he is happy to meet you and he is having a good time with you. In his famous book about human nonverbal communication, The Name Game, Albert Mehrabian (1995) conducted research to analyze how much people judge others by their appearance. According to his findings, at first there are three basic elements in any face-to-face communication: words, tone of voice and body language including facial expression. Secondly, the percentages those elements account for our liking of others are differs. Most interestingly, words or what somebody says only consists of 7% of the messages we convey in face-to-face communication. On the contrary, the tone and volume of our voices consist of 38%, and visual information such as appearance, clothing and facial expressions account for 55%. After all, even if you tell any interesting story, others would judge you not from what you say but from your appearance and sometimes misjudge you. In English, the saying “you can’t judge a book by its cover” means that you should not judge others by how they look, instead you should judge people bases on what’s inside. If viewed from the opposite perspective, however, this saying suggests that we often judge people from their appearance. But how about Mickey Mouse? He takes full advantage of this human tendency. Disney characters move charmingly and have a variety of facial expressions. This fact can be analyzed through a linguistic perspective, which tells us the key to successful communication in the real world. This paper will examine Disney’s classic animation, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” from nonverbal communicative perspectives. The analysis of body and facial appearance, proxemics distance and body touch would suggest great cues for our face-to-face communication, how we can smoothly manage the relationship in our human society. Disney films are not merely pop animations, but include important keys to nonverbal communication and psychological behavior.

Disney uses nonverbal communication to tell the story in a more psychologically effective way. One form of communication is what we call “Mirroring,” which was a phenomenon coined by Albert Scheflen (1974). He introduced this human tendency in his book How Behavior Means (1974), where he said that this is the behavior in which people subconsciously echo another’s body attitudes. Regardless of doing it consciously or unconsciously, our imitation and echo of other’s body attitude tend to be seen as expressions of respect and friendly attitudes. So, we often recognize people who have similar body behavior with ourselves as good friends who also feel affection for us. Schelfken believes that for example, in a meeting two people with similar ideas tend to sit with similar posture. So, he argues that it is not just a coincidence that four or more people at a meeting may start developing a distinct posture amongst them. Once one person rearranges his sitting posture, others also change their posture until all members sit with the same posture. In “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” we can observe an example of “Mirroring” when Snow White tries to become friends with the wild animals in a forest. In the first part of the story, Snow White knows that the queen who envies her beauty is trying to kill her, causing her to be so frightened and scared that she runs away into a deep forest. But she gets lost there, and she feels lonely and more and more scared. Then the animals living in the forest find her crying and stare at her, hiding behind the trees and rocks because they are also afraid of the stranger. Snow White knows that she frightened them, so she starts echoing the song of one of the birds. She sings with the bird, then the bird becomes happy with her melody and flies towards her and rests on her shoulder. With this as the first opportunity, she becomes friends with the animals and restores her energy. Her act of echoing the song of the bird is “Mirroring.” The bird feels secure noticing that Snow White is not likely to do harm to them since she shows her affection by singing a song which the bird sings. The bird recognizes her as a good friend who feels affection towards it. As this interaction demonstrates, this is an effective use of the “Mirroring” strategy. The bird finds that she is not an enemy by noticing her similarity with itself and feels the sense of security. After that communication, Snow White asks them whether there is any place she can live, and the animals lead her to a little house in an out-of-sight place. She enters the house and finds it unclean and messy. Then, she starts cleaning it up. After the sun goes down, the seven dwarfs return to the house and find her asleep. They are surprised but decide to let her stay there. Here again, the same kind of cues of nonverbal communication in behavior can be observed in the acts of the seven dwarfs. They move in much similar ways. Their way of walking, eating and laughing are similar. This also shows the effects of Mirroring which represent their closeness. They’ve lived together for such a long time that they unconsciously share the same routine of daily life. In addition, many people recognize that their faces are also similar. That is also one of the effects of Mirroring. They smile together in the same way, and then their facial muscles develop in the same way.

Physical contact, such as body touch, is considered to have the most powerful influence on people’s nonverbal communication. Some use body touch to show affection or feelings of love, by putting one’s hand on somebody’s shoulder if the person seems sad, and hugging one’s child as an expression of love. Jenn Berman (2008) reports one of the most heartbreaking example that shows the importance of body touch communication.  According to the article, “How Touch Improves your baby’s development” by Berman in Los Angeles Family Magazine 2008, the early 1900’s suffered from a high rate of infant mortality. In hospitals in the U.S. and Europe, in fact, the rate of infant mortality was as high as 55%. Due to a lack of an adequate childcare system, caretakers at that time could not give infants much hands-on care, but they attempted to treat them in a germ-free state and kept them untouched by adults who may have germs. Although these children were given proper meals and enough medical care, they became sick and many of them died very young. It is reported that these children frequently cried too much and refused to eat anything and eventually died. Then in 1930, when Bellevue Hospital, the oldest public hospital in the U.S., decided to introduce a new policy that promoted physical contact by the caretakers with the children there, the mortality rate dramatically dropped from 30 to 10 percent. Berman states that from this fact, doctors found that to touch somebody and feel someone’s warmth is crucial to life. Touching conveys love as a nonverbal communication and releases people from stress and anxiety. However, we tend to hate to be touched and approached so closely from someone that we don’t know well and who is not a friend. This also represents the nonverbal cue of “personal space.” Personal space refers to the distance people feel uncomfortable when someone comes near. In the Hidden Dimension, Edward T. Hall (1969), an American anthropological and cross-cultural researcher, affirms that we have the instinctive feeling that our own personal territory should not be violated. For example, on trains, we often search for seats where we can sit without being too close to another person. The reason why we feel this way comes from our territorial imperative which we have from birth. So, the reason why some get angry when they find out somebody is in their room and that somebody is on their bed is that they feel their territory is invaded. This is because we want to protect our own personal space from being invaded by someone else. Except for a best friend, a girlfriend, or a boyfriend, we do not touch another’s body excessively, and we want to protect the space where only ourselves can stay without being disturbed. In “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” the first time that the dwarfs see Snow White is when they come back home from their work and find that someone, a stranger, is in their bedroom. They become so afraid that they try to beat her up. However, they find her to be a cute girl, Snow White, sleeping in their bed soundly. At first, one of the seven dwarfs called Grumpy, who is always angry and obstinate as his name implies, objects to her staying in their house. Gradually Snow White gets along well with all of them and they come to love her.  Again, in such a moment, they gradually get along well with each other in the film. At first, the dwarfs give up their bedroom for her. In this situation, their bedroom symbolizes personal space, where you can feel at ease at night. To let her in their bedroom can be a signal of opening one’s heart. The dwarfs don’t feel it annoyed letting Snow White in their private space. This action of the dwarfs suggests that their physical and psychological distance became closer. The next day, Snow White starts to express her affection to them in return. In the morning before dwarfs go to their work, she kisses each of them on their cheeks. Kissing is a typical symbol of intimacy. By kissing them, Snow White shows her feelings of protection and support. This sequence of intimacy is a typical example that shows the effective use of nonverbal communication that begin from sharing one’s personal space and allowing others to touch their own body. So, physical contact or body touch has the most powerful impact on people’s nonverbal communication.

As observed in “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” Disney uses many effective examples of nonverbal-communication in its animation. Body movements, facial expressions, certain behaviors and the use of space as a nonverbal communication in the film, share common features with people’s face-to-face communication in their daily lives. The reason why Mickey Mouse is loved in every country regardless of age and sex is in the good use of nonverbal communication. We exchange information and interact with others, not by language, but more by our appearance than we expect. It’s certainly true that nonverbal cues in human behavior are more reliable than words. What if our communication only took place through words? What if there were no direct eye contact, gestures, smiles and tears running down one’s cheek? Our communication would be too plain and would lack emotion. We can tell a lie in words, but our nonverbal communication can only tell the truth. People exchange feelings even via the size of their pupils in face-to-face communication. We subconsciously echo another’s body attitudes when a person has the sense of affection for another. The effects of body touch have a large impact on human communication. If we can sense other’s emotions and feelings, our interpersonal relations would go well. If we can express our feelings without words, we can share joy and happiness with people around the world. In its films, Disney tells us the crucial role of nonverbal communication and its popularity is evidence of its importance. Nonverbal communication is a world language, which is demonstrated by Disney and the world-scale popularity of Disney films. We can be Mickey Mouse with the effective use of nonverbal communication.

 

 

References

Berman, Jenn (2008, July). “How touch improves your baby’s development” Los Angeles Family Magazine, 14-15.

Hall, T. Edward (1969). The hidden dimension. New York: Anchor Books.

Mehrabian, Albert. (1995). The name game. New York: Signet.

Scheflen, A. E. (1974). How behavior means. Garden City: Anchor

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