What is communication?

Communication is a method of transferring information between two persons or organisms. Communication is possible using mutually understood behaviors such as signs, symbols, or language. In the year 1980, S. F. Scudder proposed communication theory. According to his ideas, all living beings on the earth communicate, but the methods of communication differ. Communication skills are now part of soft skills.

Types of Communication

Information exchange between the living organisms in any form is communication. Humans have highly evolved modes of communication as compared to animals. Verbal and nonverbal are the most commonly used types of communication in humans. Other organisms use non-human communication without the use of words.

Verbal Communication

Verbal communication is an important soft skill that allows us to interact effectively with other people. The message or information is exchanged through speaking or writing a language. Language is nothing but a group of symbols or words that are conversed with rules of grammar. There are several languages through which humans can communicate effectively, but every language follows the same rules such as phonological, syntactic, semantic, and pragmatic rules. Every word or a symbol in a language has a meaning. These meanings can relate to the topic in discussion (literal meaning) or circumstantial.

Sometimes nonverbal elements are also incorporated in verbal communication to convey a different meaning to a particular word. For instance, if someone asks you if you are angry, you say 'no' with a frown on your face. Here, a no means that you are not mad, but a frown is a nonverbal element that indicates otherwise. Whenever you don't like writing something, you express that using an illegible handwriting style.

Nonverbal Communication

Nonverbal communication is an important soft skill that allows us to interact effectively with other people. In nonverbal communication, the information is expressed mainly through gestures, facial expressions, or eye contact. These gestures can be voluntary, such as nodding head or shaking hands, or involuntary, such as sweating or shivering. Nonverbal communication in humans plays a vital role in understanding the emotion or actual feelings behind verbally exchanged information. However, the nonverbal method can be ambiguous to understand sometimes. For instance, when people talk sarcastically.

On the bright side, this form of communication is a basic form of communication and is very effective despite the language barriers. There are a few universal behaviors. For instance, behaviors such as crying, smiling, pointing are a few non-verbal means of expressing feelings that anyone can understand regardless of their speaking skills.

Various types of expressions seen in nonverbal communication.

CC BY-SA 3.0 | Image Credits: https://www.flickr.com | Jay Cross

In addition to verbal and nonverbal communications, humans are moving toward a new form of communication known as digitally connected communication through social media channels. One such communication channel that has recently gained popularity is TikTok.

Non-human Communication

Every other Living organism in nature other than humans can exchange information through various means such as signals, chemicals, or cellular communication.

  1. Communication in Bacteria

Microorganisms like bacteria use a unique process called Quorum sensing for communication. Through this method, bacteria sense the density of the cells, and they regulate their gene expression according to that.

2. Communication in Fungi

Fungi communicate through biochemical molecules within their species and with the organisms belonging to other species such as plants, bacteria, and other animals.  These biochemical molecules enable the fungi to interpret the relationship with the similar, related, or non-related species. 

3. Communication in Plants

Like fungi, plants also use specific biochemical indicators to communicate with other plants or organisms belonging to different species. Whenever plants feel threatened by herbivorous animals, they release certain chemicals that attract other organisms that attack these herbivores and keep themselves safe. This type of relationship between the plant and organism is called symbiosis.

4. Communication in Animals

Animals also have good communication skills like humans, and they use various types of communication to fulfill their needs. They include:

  • Visual mode

Most animals use a visual display of gestures, body movements, or facial expressions to convey their emotions. A few lower groups of animals also communicate using color change or bioluminescence to attract mates or hide from enemies. For instance, a cuttlefish has two different patterns on either side of the body, simulating males and females, respectively. Whenever it sees a female cuttlefish, it displays the male pattern facing the female and the female design opposite to court the female.

A few organisms use bioluminescence as a method of communication to attract prey.

  • Auditory mode A few animals communicate, making specific sounds to attract mating partners or prey. These also help themselves to avoid danger. For instance, prairie dogs use whistling as a means to communicate the presence of threats. Insects such as crickets or spiders make specific sounds to attract mating partners.
  • Olfactory mode

Olfactory means is one of the oldest means of communication in animals and is also the least understood. The chemicals are responsible for the specific scent that plays a vital role in this type of communication.

A typical example in our daily life is that of a dog. It can identify its owner from its scent and identify threats by barking if they sense a smell from strangers.

When attacked by a predator, Atlantic salmon releases a chemical that alerts other fishes (Atlantic salmons) nearby.

  • Through touch:

Touch is a significant factor used for social interactions in animals. It plays a vital role in rituals such as mating, fighting, huddling, or foraging.

A few other communication modes in animals are exhibiting thermal changes, electrocommunication, or auto communication.

How do viruses communicate with humans?

Viruses communicate with human cells in a variety of ways to gain access to the cell. Coronavirus, for example, binds to human ACE (Angiotensin-converting enzyme) receptors with its virus surface spike proteins. The human protease enzyme proteolytically activates the virus and penetrates human cells as a result of this interaction.

Steps in communication

The mode of communication has the following steps.

  1. Establishing the intent or the reason for communication
  2. Composition of the message (a basic idea of what to express) 
  3. Formulating the idea (speech, written language, gestures, facial expression, or any other communication style)
  4. Transmission of the message (sending the intended message through a specific medium) 
  5. Reception of the message or the signal
  6. Decoding and understanding the received message.

In addition to these steps, background noise, such as any intentional or unintentional activity, influences the quality of message transmission. All steps can be followed in sequence, as mentioned above, but sometimes there is an overlapping of these steps, so no order is followed.


Auto Communication

It is a unique method of communication used in animals where the sender and receiver of the message are the same individuals. Here, the animals send a message which the environment modifies, and the same animal receives the modified signal.


A communication process by the production of light.

Bioluminescence, a method of visual communication shown by a jelly fish to attract prey.
CC BY I Image credits: https://sci-hit.com

Quorum Sensing

This feature enables the bacteria to regulate their gene expression based on their understanding of the surrounding organisms.

Pitfalls to effective communication

  • Cultural differences 

People who belong to various cultures have different languages and modes of communication. So, that makes it difficult for a person belonging to one culture to communicate effectively with the other.

  • Noise

Any disturbance in the message transmission or interception is considered noise, which is one of the significant communication barriers.

  • Physiological barriers

A person may not communicate effectively due to ill health or any psychological issues such as anxiety or fear of being criticized.

  • Ambiguity in words

Sometimes a person says something, and the other person interprets it with a different meaning.

Context and Applications

The concept of communication in living organisms is used in various fields to understand the behavior and evolution of organisms.

The concept of quorum sensing is used in communication technology such as robotics to manage robot swarms or to create synthetic biological circuits. 

Practice Problems

Q1. Which of the following is Quorum sensing?
  a. Type of communication in bacteria

b. A method used by fishes to identify prey

c. A concept used in creating sensors

d. None

Ans: Option a is correct because through this method bacteria sense the density of the cells, and regulate their genes accordingly.

Q2. How do fungi communicate?

a. Bioluminescence

b. Through auto-communication

c. By producing sound

d. By producing biochemical molecules

Ans: Option d is correct because Fungi communicate with other organisms by releasing biochemical molecules.

Q3. What are the types of communication in humans?

a. Verbal

b. Non-verbal

c. Both a and b.

d. None of the above.

Ans: Option c is correct. Both verbal and nonverbal communications are the types of communication in humans.

Q4. The defence mechanism shown by Atlantic salmon when attacked by predators is an example of_________________.

a. Visual communication

b. Olfactory communication

c. Auditory communication

d. Auto communication

Ans: Option b is correct because, when attacked by a predator, Atlantic salmon releases a chemical that alerts Atlantic salmons nearby.

Q5. Which of the following organisms is capable of Bioluminescence?

a. Dog

b. Cuttlefish

c. Jellyfish

d. Atlantic salmon

Ans: Option c is correct because jellyfish use Bioluminescence to attract prey.

Common Mistakes

Communication is often perceived as business communication by students. A unique style of communication required to transmit information in the sphere of business is known as business communication. It refers to how employees communicate with one another both inside and outside of a firm. For further reading in detail about business communication, a separate style guide is required for each industry.

  • Pheromones
  • Quorum sensing
  • Signal transduction
  • Collective behavior of species
  • Cell to cell communication

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