Punishment and Control – Garrett’s Blog Post

Nonverbal communication has major impacts on areas like punishment and control. These things can be found at work within our interpersonal communication, propaganda, and mediated communication. Punishment and control are two ways of dealing with behavior. Punishment focuses on the consequences of an action. Control, on the other hand, aims to affect the behavior without punishing it. We can see how nonverbal communication can be used to punish and control. Punishment is often viewed an forceful action that’s used to impose damage to the one being punished; however, punishment can take many different forms. Similarly, control is not always coercive. And it can be achieved through various ways of nonverbal communication.


Interpersonal Communication

Punishment can come in many forms. Most forms of punishment are active. That doesn’t mean that they are necessarily forceful or coercive, but they are usually active in some way. Interpersonal communication is unique, however, in the way that it allows you to speak by not speaking. Silence can be one of the most effective elements of interpersonal communication. “Silence serves as a type of nonverbal communication when we do not use words or uterances to convey meanings” (“Survey of Communication”). The silent treatment is a passive form of punishment. You’re not scolding them. You’re not yelling at them. Not even raising your voice. But it’s still a form of punishment because you’re withholding from them something that they want. That is, if they want you to speak to them. This brings into question whether or not the silent treatment is an effective form of punishment. It would only be effective if the person being punished actually wants you to speak to them. Nonetheless, it holds that interpersonal communication can be used to punish someone in the form of silence.

(Click the Vimeo link to watch a great example of “The Silent Treatment?“)

Interpersonal communication can also be used as a means of control. Control, at times, can be gained through the use of specific words, but nonverbals also have a major role in this. Take, for example, the environment. Ask a classroom full of college students what they did last Saturday night? Now, ask if they’d be willing to do that very thing in front of the class. Unless they spent their Saturday reading books and doing homework, they probably aren’t going to waltz to the front of the classroom do a keg stand. Oh, but that’s because there’s a professor in the room, right? Is it really just the people, not the environment? Consider this: even if the professor left the classroom, and all that’s left are the same kids that were at the party on Saturday night, they still wouldn’t be willing to do it. That’s the effect that the environment has.

The right environment can be used to gain control. If you’re at a movie theater before a movie starts, it’s very likely that you’ll hear a lot of talking. But hopefully that level of talking doesn’t continue throughout the entire movie. That would be distracting, and it’s usually against the rules of the movie theater. So what is it that makes everyone stop talking? Is it when the movie starts? Perhaps the first line that an actor or actress says? Not quite. It’s usually before the first scene even begins.  The environment is manipulated by the change of lighting which controls the behavior of the audience. “Our environment are nonverbal acts through our use of spaces we occupy” (“Survey of Communication”).  There’s no big announcement that says, “Would you all please shut up now?!” But with the simple dimming of the lights you can hear the crowd become silent.



Propaganda is typically viewed as a means of controlling. Almost any given piece of propaganda can be argued that is used to control in some way. But what about punishment via propaganda? Is it possible?

Propaganda as a means of punishment was much more difficult to find. Propaganda won’t be able to punish in the traditional way; it’s way of punishment would be the “less immediately physical kind, a certain discretion in the art of inflicting pain” (Foucault). Propaganda can inflict mental and emotional pain as punishment. Take, for example, the billboards that say “Abortion: A woman scheduling the killing of her child.” These signs don’t impose any physical form of punishment, but they can inflict guilt, pain and sorrow upon a woman who has had an abortion, thus punishing her. This piece of propaganda uses predispositions of the audience in order to communicate its point. “Messages have greater impact when they are in line with existing opinions, beliefs, and dispositions” (Jowett, O’Donnell). People generally are predisposed to belief that killing children is wrong. And so, by using the word “child” they are able to communicate their point. I don’t’ think the main purpose of this propaganda is punishment, but for those that who have had an abortion, the sign is a way of saying, “We are disappointed in what you have done.” Sort of a like reprimanding, but through an inanimate billboard. The propaganda on these billboards is not primarily punishment. But it certainly can punish.

Primarily, propaganda like this is used as a way of controlling. The propagandists are able to influence the actions of both women and men with these billboards. “Propaganda is also associated with emotional language” (Jowett, O’Donnell).  This specific propaganda using words that are meant to affect the emotions of the audience, words such as “killing” and “child.” As mentioned before, the propaganda can bring a form of punishment upon some people, but more often it is aiming at control for the present and the future. If someone sees the sign and is persuaded, either by pathos or logos or any other way, their behavior can be affected.

(This is a piece of propaganda similar to the one                                                                                     mentioned above.)


Mediated Communication

Like interpersonal communication, mediated communication can be used to punish in both passive and active ways. The passive way would be similar to the silent treatment that was mentioned in the “Interpersonal Communication” section. You could punish someone by not responding to them on things like Facebook, Twitter, and even text messages.

The active form of punishment is where it can get interesting. Imagine that Darrell and Darrellene have been dating for a few months. Darrell just cheated on Darrellene, and now Darrellene is upset. No she’s more than upset. She’s furious. A mixture of turmoil and fury makes her want to punish Darrell for what he has done. Having no true authority over Darrell, she is unable to punish him in a traditional way. So she turns to Facebook. Darrellene decides to write a post on Darrell’s timeline. She double checks to make sure that her settings for the post are set to ‘Public’ because she wants everyone to be able to see what she writes.

Public punishment is a strange thing. “By the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century, the gloomy festival of punishment was dying out […] first was the disappearance of punishment as a spectacle” (CITE). However, with the rise of social media, we’re beginning to see a new form a public punishment. Darrellene is able to punish Darrell by writing a lengthy post on his timeline that specifically calls him out for what he has done. This can bring shame, guilt, and embarrassment to Darrell as everyone and their mother is able to read Darrellene’s post about his wrongdoing.

Mediated communication can also be used to control. A subtle but popular occurrence of this can be seen daily on Facebook. We’ve all seen the anniversary posts that talk about how much a couple is in love and how amazing their relationship is. Now that kind of post by itself may have some controlling affects, but there’s often times a little phrase attached to the end of the post: “and many more (years) to come.” This public announcement of the foretelling of the future of their relationship could aim at trying to influence behavior. Maybe they are insecure about if their significant other really loves them, and they want to convince them that they will be together for years to come. A funny example of this that I’ve seen was a post that included the sentence: “You’re my girlfriend and you always will be.” At reading this, I began to laugh at the fact that he’s envisioning her as his forever-girlfriend. Like they’d be chilling at the age of eighty having never even thought about engagement or marriage, but that’s beside the point. A post like this demonstrates how mediated communication can be used to control behavior.



“AT&T: Silent Treatment.” Vimeo. Web. 13 Dec. 2016. <https://vimeo.com/56471573&gt;
Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. New York: Vintage , a Division of Random House, 1995. Print.
Jowett, Garth, and Victoria O’Donnell. Propaganda and Persuasion. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications, Print.
“Survey of Communication Study/Chapter 3 – Nonverbal Communication.” Survey of Communication Study/Chapter 3 – Nonverbal Communication – Wikibooks, Open Books for an Open World. Web. 13 Dec. 2016.



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