What Your Body Parts Say About Your Inner Self
Bodies, Not Faces, May Convey Intense Emotions
Contrary to what you may think, your facial expressions may not clue people in to what you're feeling as much as your body language.
By Erin Hicks
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FRIDAY, Nov. 30, 2012 –They say eyes are the windows to the soul, but researchers have discovered evidence that the body provides better cues for deciphering intense emotions than the face.
In a study published this week in the journalScience, researchers from Hebrew University, New York University, and Princeton University asked study participants to judge the emotions on faces undergoing real-life positive and negative experiences. They presented test groups with photos of dozens of highly intense facial expressions in different real-life emotional situations. For example, they had the test groups compare emotional expressions of professional tennis players winning or losing a point.
Then researchers showed different versions of the pictures to three groups of participants. One group saw the full picture with the face and body, the second group saw the body but not the face, and the third group saw only the face. Participants could more easily differentiate losers from winners when they rated the full picture or the body alone, but they had a more difficult time when looking at the face alone.
Those who viewed the full image of the face and body, however, were convinced it was the face that revealed the strong emotion, not the body.
Participants were also asked to examine a broader range of real-life faces that included people expressing positive emotions like joy, pleasure, or victory, and negative emotions like grief, pain, or defeat. Again, participants had a hard time differentiating the positive and negative emotions in the faces.
Researchers attached the faces to bodies expressing either positive or negative emotion, then alternated, putting the face that had been on a body expressing negative emotion on one expressing positive emotion. The result: The way participants described the emotion was determined by their perception of the body, not the face.
"These results show that when emotions become extremely intense, the difference between positive and negative facial expression blurs," said one of the study’s authors, Hillel Aviezer, PhD, of Hebrew University in a press release. "The findings challenge classic behavioral models in neuroscience, social psychology and economics, in which the distinct poles of positive and negative valence do not converge."
Aviezer said the results may help researchers understand how body and facial expressions interact during emotional situations. For example, a person with autism may not recognize facial expressions but if they were trained to process body cues, they might have more success at interpreting emotions in others.
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