Authors & Sources

The “I” of the text is Dr. Mary Shapiro, a professor of linguistics at Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri, with a Master’s thesis in semantics and a Ph.D dissertation in sociolinguistics (both from the University of Texas at Austin). I had a great deal of assistance from my students in thinking about, gathering material for, writing, editing, filming, and testing this ongoing project, including Meagan Bail, Nick Becker, Patrick Collins, Alec Dutcher, Elliot Eastin, Kara Fleming, Maria Evelynt Gandon Chapela, Seth Galemore, Emily Gannon, Sarah Graham, Jennifer Herr, Ryan Herriman, Jade Hicks, Bethany Hoekzema, George Koors, Drew Kaizer, Michelle (Shellie) Kreter, Stephen Kuehner, Danielle (Dani) Lewis, Elizabeth Macy, Madison March, Christina Milne, Erin Murley, Amy Ney, Jessica Rapp, Courtney Ryan, Christina Schwaller, Alexis Simmons, Stephanie Simpson, Christopher Stone, Andrew Tipping, Samantha Weatherford, and Anna Whitehead. Several dozen other students agreed to be (anonymously) video- and audiotaped expressly for this site; they have my gratitude, if not public acknowledgment. The beautiful design of the site is thanks to Kat Klebenow. The coding of the customized WordPress template is thanks to Brandon Molina, Logan McCamon, and John Foley.

The responsibility for the content (and any mistakes therein) is, of course, is entirely my own. In addition to synthesizing information gleaned from years of reading the technical literature, I have included insights gained from working directly with college students who have social communication challenges (having led support groups for such students and training sessions about social communication for residential advisors on campus), as well as working with my own son who has autism, and to whom this site is dedicated.


In 2005, Temple Grandin and Sean Barron published a book called The Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships  (published by Future Horizons) containing many important insights — but still just scratching the surface. Dr. Grandin told us, in that book, she did not discover until she was 50 years old that people gain social information by making eye contact. (She thought making eye contact was just an arbitrary rule.)  I decided to create a free, easily accessible source that would explain things like this — and more, to clearly explain what type of social information is gained and other ways that same type of social information may be expressed.

This website is in some ways also a reaction against Simon Baron-Cohen’s false dichotomy between what he calls “Systemizing Brains” vs. “Empathizing Brains.” He fails to recognize that the sending and receiving of social signals IS a complex system! It’s just that the “rules” of social interaction are seldom consciously noticed, made explicit, or taught. Most of these rules are contingencies (‘if…then’ kinds of connections, often contingencies within contingencies), and the amazing computer that is your brain is capable of chugging through hundreds of if-thens in a blink of an eye once you have fully internalized the system. People who are starting from scratch as adults may never internalize the system and they may find the complexity of it overwhelming, but I’ve tried nonetheless to avoid oversimplification, while avoiding unhelpful theoretical debates.  (As in any academic field of study, scholars squabble over both large-picture theories and small-picture details within those theories.) Even if you can’t master the system completely, you may come to admire it, to appreciate it as a marvel of human evolution — and there’s no reason why you can’t keep learning about it and refining your skills for as long as you live.

A more inspiring and enduring influence has been the work of Michelle Garcia Winner, whose “social thinking” programs and books are absolutely brilliant. Anyone who has social communication challenges or works in the field should read her books, the central message of which is that we must always be thinking about what others think about us (as that affects how they’ll act toward us and then how we feel). She is typically dealing with greater challenges than this website assumes, looking at pragmatics on a more basic level. She’s helping people who may have an impaired ability to imagine others’ perspectives, while we assume an audience that can make reasonable inferences, given enough information. This website is intended for people who have (or could have) “graduated” from her work.  (She’s the cake; we’re the frosting and the cherry on top.) Check out her work at


Each topic on the website has its own references section, with both scholarly literature and recommended general reading, if we could find any. The sources listed on this page are more general, but which different audiences might still find useful for more information on social communication processes. Of course, I have lifted whatever I wanted from my own (1997) Ph.D. dissertation, “Style Shifting: The Perception and Production of Formality in English.”

Sources for basic pragmatics and social skills

The following are recommended sources for people who are struggling with pragmatics and social skills on a very basic level.  Note that these seldom deal with language at all, except for providing some scripts to memorize, let alone attempt to integrate linguistic, paralinguistic, and nonlinguistic sources of social information:

  • Baker, Jed (2003). Social Skills Training for Children and Adolescents with Asperger Syndrome and Social-Communications Problems. Autism Asperger Publishing.
  • Cooper, Barbara & Nancy Widdow (2008). Social Success Workbook for Teens. Instant Help/New Harbinger Books.
  • Do2Learn (1999-2013). “SocialSkillsToolbox.” [online resource]
  • McAfee, Jeanette. (2001). Navigating the Social World. Future Horizons.
  • Myles, Brenda Smith, Melissa L. Trautman & Ronda L. Schelvan. (2004). The Hidden Curriculum. Autism Asperger Publishing.
  • O’Toole, Jennifer Cook. (2013). The Asperkid’s Secret Books of Social Rules. Jessica Kingsley.
  • Winner, Michelle Garcia. (2007).  Thinking About You, Thinking About Me, 2nd Ed. Think-Social Publishing.  [for professionals]
  • Winner, Michelle Garcia. (2007). Social Behavior Mapping. Think-Social Publishing. [for professionals]
  • Winner, Michelle Garcia. (2008). You are a Social Detective! Think-Social Publishing.[for children]
  • Winner, Michelle Garcia & Pam Crooke. (2011). Socially Curious and Curiously Social. North River Press.  [for adolescents]
  • Winner, Michelle Garcia & Pam Crooke. (2011). Social Fortune or Social Fate. Think-Social Publishing.   [for adolescents]
  • Winner, Michelle Garcia & Pam Crooke. (2011). Social Thinking at Work: Why Should I Care? North River Press.   [for adults]

Sources for linguistics

For those with a scholarly interest in the linguistic subfields drawn upon in this website, I can recommend some textbooks that are used for undergraduates, but be aware that these do not contain useful tips for those seeking to improve their own interactions. And, as a matter of course, they pay little to no attention to the nonverbal or paralinguistic parts of the process of social signalling.

  • Gee, Paul James. (2010). An Introduction to Discourse Analysis, 3rd ed. Routledge.
  • Grundy, Peter. (2008).  Doing Pragmatics, 3rd Ed. Routledge.
  • Holmes, Janet. (2013). An Introduction to Sociolinguistics, 4th edition. Routledge.
  • Labov, William. (2001). Principles of Linguistic Change, Volume 2: Social Factors. Blackwell.
  • Levinson, Stephen C. (1983). Pragmatics. Cambridge University Press.
  • Sidnell, Jack & Tanya Stivers (Eds.) The Handbook of Conversation Analysis. Routledge.
  • Wardhaugh, Ronald. (2010). An Introduction to Sociolinguistics. 6th ed. Wiley-Blackwell.

Other academic disciplines

There are, of course, other academic disciplines that informed this website. Here are some of the works we would recommend, although some are more accessible to non-specialists than others. Some we used as sources for information for various modules (and so are cited as sources on those specific pages), whereas others we consulted merely to educate ourselves and increase our background knowledge in these fields.

  • Birdwhistell, Ray L. (1970). Kinesics and Context: Essays on Body Motion Communication. University of Pennsylvania Press.
  • Calder, Andy; Rhodes, Gillian; Johnson, Mark & Jim Haxby. (2011). Oxford Handbook of Face Perception. Oxford University Press.
  • Hargie, Owen. (2010). Skilled Interpersonal Communication: Research, Theory, and Practice, 5th Ed. Routledge.
  • Holtgraves, T. M. (2002). Language as Social Action: Social Psychology and Language Use. Erlbaum.
  • Kalbfleisch, Pamela J. (Ed.)(1993). Interpersonal Communication: Evolving Interpersonal Relationships. Erlbaum.
  • Knapp, Mark L., & Judith A. Hall. (2009). Nonverbal Communication in Human Interaction. 7th Ed. Cengage Learning.
  • Neidenthal, Paula, Silvia Krauth-Gruber & Francois Ric. (2006). Psychology of Emotion: Interpersonal, Experiential, and Cognitive Approaches. Psychology Press.
  • Reeve, Johnmarshall. (2008)  Understanding Motivation and Emotion, 5th Ed. Wiley.
  • Salzmann, Zdenek; James Stanlaw & Nobuko Adachi. (2011). Language, Culture, and Society: An Introduction to Linguistic Anthropology, 5th Ed. Westview Press.
  • Vangelisti, Anita L. (Ed.)(2012). The Routledge Handbook of Family Communication, 2nd Ed. Routledge.
  • Wood, Julia T. (2013). Interpersonal Communication: Everyday Encounters, 7th Ed. Wadsworth.