Recent studies suggest that we should pay attention to body language more, and facial language less. And...all the actors in the room go "Duh!"
by Loren A. Roberts (guru of multi-hyphenate media)
Interesting: have you ever gotten the wrong read from a friend's face? Have you ever been working on a teleconference with someone, and can't understand where the other party is emotionally?
Usually I tell people “I'd rather talk about this face to face.” But I might be wrong. According to a new study, “face-to-face” is not all it’s cracked up to be. Researchers in Jerusalem had an idea: try and figure out if we could tell a person’s emotional state just by looking at the face. Seems obvious, right? -- facial expression should be enough to tell what is going on in a person’s psyche. Guess again!
The researchers showed people three different types of photos: a) just faces, b) faces and bodies, and c) bodies with the faces removed; then they asked the people to tell them what was going on. The people, interestingly, could tell what emotional state was present in the photograph when they saw the body and the face, or just the body, but could not pinpoint the emotional state by looking solely at the face.
BODY LANGUAGE RULES
Even more interestingly, when looking at the “body plus face” pictures, the respondents said that it was the facial expression that was significant. But take away the body, and they couldn't tell the emotion. So, even when we think the face and eyes are telling us what is going on, we are probably wrong.
Watching videos of myself perform, I totally understand this phenomenon. Look at my face, and I might look bored, or excited, or happy, or sad -- but those expressions often have nothing to do with my actual state. Look at my whole body, though, and something different happens: I am “in” the moment of the show.
Okay, now, it gets weirder. Even when viewing faces, different cultures weigh different parts of the face differently when trying to figure out moods. Researchers in Glasgow compared a group of Chinese people with a group of Caucasian people, and watched how they took in facial expressions:
The study found that the Chinese participants relied on the eyes more to represent facial expressions, while Western Caucasians relied on the eyebrows and mouth. Those cultural distinctions could lead to missed cues or misinterpreted signals about emotions during cross-cultural communications, the study reported.
So, the next time you are confused about a face, understand that many of the cues that we think are giveaways on a face can be misleading. You might have a cultural bias towards reading faces a certain way, and even then the body is a better indicator of mood than the face is.
LOREN A. ROBERTS produces films, videos and music, designs magazines and logos, plays and sings in a rock-and-roll tribute band, and is a student of what happens when science and technology and the arts and culture collide. www.hearkencreative.com
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