Nonverbal Cues

. . . our little life is rounded. . . . --Shakespeare (The Tempest, IV, I)

Consumer product. A small, lively, spherical artifact of vinyl, designed to bounce approximately 90 percent as high as the point from whence it was dropped.

Usage: Considered a child's toy, adults too enjoy Superball's animated bounce. The rhythmic, back-and-forth reciprocity of releasing and catching a Superball is a "whole brain" workout which stimulates the entirety of the central nervous system (including circuits of the spinal cord, hindbrain, midbrain, and forebrain).

Anatomy. Made of Zectron, the Superball contains 50,000 lbs. of compressed energy (source: WHAM-O package).

History I. In the 1960s, a chemical engineer accidentally created a plastic product that bounced uncontrollably. Thus the Superball was born, followed by the Super Gold Ball, Super Baseball, and Super Dice. "In one celebrated incident, a giant, promotional Superball was accidentally dropped from of a 23rd floor hotel window in Australia. It shot back up 15 floors, then down again into a parked convertible car. The car was totaled but the ball survived in perfect condition." (Source:

History II. During the 1960s, ca. 20 million Superballs were sold. However, the toy was so copied by competitors (e.g., today, by Taiwan's Hi-Bouncing Ball) that WHAM-O "bounced" the product from its line. "If you're one of the countless others who've never been satisfied with mere copies, the wait is over! WHAM-O has brought back the original Superball." (Source:

Literature. "It's alive!" (Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Frankenstein, 1818)

Meaning. Through its shape, color, texture, and lifelike movements, the Superball has a great deal to "say," especially to children--and to the young at heart. Nonverbally, its body-language motions are gestures which carry information, attract our fancy, and catch our eyes (see MESSAGING FEATURE).

RESEARCH REPORT: Our attraction to the zany body language of Superballs is due, in part, to the unusual amount of energy they contain. According to the researcher, Margaret D. Campbell, ". . . when two superballs of different masses are dropped with the larger on the bottom, the smaller one has its velocity increased by a factor of three and reaches a final height of nine times its original height." Thus, "The first collision will have only the effect of reversing the large ball's velocity. For the second collision, involving both balls, we use the fact that the total momentum and the total kinetic energy of the two balls is the same before and after the collision, and, solving for the final velocities, obtain the equations (where Mr = M1/M2 is the mass ratio):

V1f = [(Mr - 1) / (Mr + 1)]V1i + [2 / (Mr + 1)]V2i

V2f = [2Mr / (Mr + 1)]V1i + [(1 - Mr) / (Mr + 1)]V2i

or, if V1i = V2i = Vi

V1f = [(-Mr + 3) / (Mr + 1)] Vi

V2f = [(1 - Mr) / (Mr + 1)] Vi

and Mr -->0,

V1f = 3Vi . . . [and thus,] the smaller ball will gain three times the velocity it started with . . . ."

E-Commentary: "I am a high school student and basketball player, and I'm working on a science project. I need some advice. I know this might be off topic and not in your field, but anyway, I saw your report on the superball, and for my project I would like to manipulate the superball material into insoles for my shoes which, in theory (mine anyway), will improve my jumping ability. Do you think it would actually work? And if so, how could I manipulate the material into an insole? Would melting it change its 'bouncy' properties? Any help would be greatly appreciated." --Jay (8/31/00 8:17:23 AM Pacific Daylight Time)

Neuro-notes. Like many successful products, a Superball "speaks" to our senses. Its color targets the ventral temporal lobe; when bounced it addresses the middle temporal gyrus. At a deeper level, via emotional modules linked to vision centers of the amphibian midbrain, lively movements give the Superball its charming "personality." The diminutive size confers cuteness, and (like human skin itself) the smoothness of its vinyl contours pleases free nerve endings in our hands.

See also BIG MAC.

YouTube Video: Watch a vintage TV commercial for Superball (note the animated body movements, added to stimulate emotional appeal of the product).

Copyright 1998 - 2016 (David B. Givens/Center for Nonverbal Studies)
Drawing of "Showing My Nonverbal Side" by my son Aaron Huffman (copyright 2012 by Aaron M. Huffman)