Facial Expressions & Body Language

Facial Expressions & Body Language

Facial expressions

The human emotions of happiness, sadness, interest, disgust, fear, anger and surprise can all be read clearly in someone’s facial expression. In 1966 Osgood found that these facial expressions are common to almost all societies. This would suggest that these expressions are biologically built into us and not specific to the society we grow up in.

Sackeim (1978) wantedto understand the influence the two hemispheres of the brain have on facial expressions. To do this a number of photographs of people showing different emotions were split down the middle and mirrored to produce a complete face. Complete faces were created from both the right and left sides of the face. He showed participants these pictures and asked them what their preferences were. In most cases they preferred the pictures in which the left side was real, explaining that the pictures looked ‘warmer’.

Conclusion and limitations: It was concluded that the left side of the face tends to express more emotion than the right. This fits in with other research showing that the right hemisphere of the brain, which controls the left side of the body, contains our emotions. Of course in real life we look at real faces, not photographs, which change expression constantly. We also observe other non-verbal clues like gesture and intonation when reading someone’s emotional state.


Body language

We also use body language to communicate feelings to other people. Body language may be used deliberately or unknowingly. Some signs are more obvious than others. Someone who has his arms crossed whilst he is talking to you may be indicating that he is resistant to you or your ideas. This is known as a closed posture. On the other hand an open posture would be when the body has not been closed off e.g. legs apart and arms outstretched. This would suggest a welcoming and unthreatened attitude.

Postural echoing: is when one or both participants in a conversation begin to copy the other’s body language. This communicates agreement or friendliness and can be either deliberate or unconscious. The image of two lovers leaning across a table and gazing into each other’s eyes is a bit of a clich but is a classic example of postural echoing. Touching somebody whilst talking to them, no matter how subtly, can subconsciously influence their judgement of how friendly you are.

Practical applications People whose professional role it is to be persuasive may use body language to manipulate how others respond to them. Sales people and politicians, for example, may use open gestures to convey a sense of honesty or friendliness.

Gestures are physical signs which communicate a specific meaning. In the UK if someone reverses their hand and flicks a V sign at you, you are left in no doubt as to how that person feels towards you. Unconscious gestures, such as the raising of an eyebrow or the clenching of a fist, may betray feelings you don’t wish to communicate. Lynne and Mynier (1993) discovered that waiters and waitresses who squatted down to make eye contact with customers tended to receive more tips than those who remained stood up.

Limitations and applications: Lynne and Mynier’s study failed to detail whether the gender of those giving and taking the food orders had anything to with tip size. Other factors may have had an influence, for example the size of the food order. Obviously this information has a direct application for waiters and waitresses and has even influenced the way some companies train them.