by Cindy Weiman

Face value

Body language speaks volumes

Body language says it all
The face is but a blank canvas

If you find it hard to read someone’s emotions, the problem may be that you are staring them in the face. Research suggests that it is people's bodies that give away what they are thinking, not their expressions.

When men and women were given photographs of individuals and asked to judge the emotion shown, they did badly when just given head and shoulder shots. With images of the entire person, they did much better.

The researchers began by showing volunteers pictures taken of professional tennis players including Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal as they experienced the highs and lows of winning and losing points at Wimbledon. Given the faces alone, they couldn’t tell the winners from the losers. It is only when you view a face and body, or just the body, that you can tell who was victorious. The key seemed to be in the players’ hands, with a clenched fist denoting a win and splayed fingers a loss.

To widen the experiment, volunteers were shown pictures of people experiencing a range of emotions, from the joy of seeing one’s house after a lavish makeover, to the grief of attending a funeral. Again, they were poor judges when simply shown the faces. In fact, they often rated the happy expressions more negatively than the sad ones.

To further prove that it is the body and not the face that is key in expressing emotion, the researchers created fake photos in which a happy face was planted on a sad body and vice versa. Again, it was the body that was the giveaway.

When our feelings are very intense, our facial muscles may do a poor job of expressing our emotions. Much like speakers blaring at maximum volume, the quality of the facial signal becomes degraded and noisy.

Lead researcher Dr Hillel Aviezer, of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said: “Western society has the idea that the most important source of information is the face.

“The research says maybe we should zoom out and try to take a broader look. Emotions happen to the whole person.

“The results may help researchers understand how body/face expressions interact during emotional situations."

He added that reading faces is still important when trying to distinguish more subtle emotions.

David Lewis-Hodgson, a chartered psychologist and director of private research firm Mindlab International, said: “The study used a slightly artificial situation. A still picture is a moment frozen in time.”

Daily Mail

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