The importance of this area of nonverbal communication was borne out historically in April 1974 when Richard Nixon sent written transcripts rather than audiotapes of his secret White House conversations to the House Judiciary Committee investigating his possible impeachment. Members of the Committee quite rightly complained that written transcripts could not convey the full and correct meaning of an utterance since they lacked the additional nonverbal cues that one derives from the voice: inflection, stress, context, and other such nuances. They demanded the actual tapes because they contained this vital information. The landmark decision to provide the Committee the tapes eventually led to Nixon's resignation, but it also legitimized paralinguistic communication-the study of voice and how words are said.
Paralinguistic cues can give clues to our stress level, age, height, weight, socio-economic status, anxiety, gender, personality characteristics, and culture. In fact, our voices are so unique voiceprints can be used to identify individuals today in the same way that DNA has been used for forensic purposes. Take, for instance, recent events in the Persian Gulf. The opening salvos of the 2003 War in Iraq were aimed at a bunker complex in which it was believed Iraqi president Saddam Hussein was meeting with his sons. When Hussein showed up on television shortly thereafter, there was some belief that a body double was being used to fool the Iraqi population (and the Allied forces) into believing that he was still alive. To verify Hussein's status, U.S. intelligence began analyzing voiceprints of his speech, comparing them to earlier television addresses. Other nonverbals couldn't be trusted. One can manipulate the facial hair, expression, or even appearance, but controlling vocal cues is much more difficult!
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