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20/20 airs Buck's research
on how boys communicate
June 22, 1998

How do boys express and communicate their emotions? The ABC News program 20/20 wanted to know and they used research conducted by Ross Buck, a professor of communication sciences, in a segment they presented on the issue in June.

Buck, who holds a joint appointment in the department of psychology, is a specialist in social psychology, nonverbal communication, and human motivation and emotion.

According to Buck's experiments, which began in the 1970s, many boys begin to hold in their feelings as they grow older, around the ages of four to six years.

His experiment consists of a person watching four types of slides: one with familiar people, one with unfamiliar people, an unpleasant slide, and an unusual slide. While they view the slide, their physiological response to it is tested by a polygraph and their facial expression is videotaped by a hidden camera and viewed by students or mothers. The polygraph shows electrodermal responses, which are sensitive physiological indicators of psychological arousal.

In the original experiment, adults demonstrated strong gender differences - most people could guess more accurately what type of slide women were viewing and how they felt about it. Those who show their feelings more have smaller electrodermal responses.

The same experiments conducted with very young children did not indicate significant gender differences. However, as boys got older, between the ages of four and six, they tended to be poorer senders.

"The experiments measure the tendency of children to send accurate nonverbal signals to others through their facial expressions and gestures. At four to six years of age, boys begin to learn to hold in feeling," Buck says.

A team from 20/20 visited campus in May to discuss with Buck how boys communicate emotion, and to tape simulations of his research. A group of three year old and six year old boys were videotaped as they watched slides designed to provoke an emotion. The polygraph measured changes in the electrical conductance of their skin as they watched the slides. Meanwhile, the mothers of the boys watched from another room and tried to guess from their facial expressions what slide their sons were watching and how it made them feel. The boys showed little facial response to the slides, but the polygraph indicated they indeed had emotional responses..

The 20/20 segment aired on June 5.

Buck has conducted research through funding from many sources, including the National Institutes of Mental Health, the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation and the UConn Research Foundation. His current research on emotional expression and communication in schizophrenic patients is being funded by the EJLB Foundation - National Trust, Canada.

He is also the author of numerous books, journal articles and monographs. Among his latest publications is a chapter with Benson Ginsburg, a professor of psychology and a specialist in biobehavioral sciences, entitled, "Communicative Genes and the Evolution of Empathy."

Renu Aldrich