Body Language Provides Better Cue to Judge A Person

First Posted: Nov 30, 2012 04:53 AM EST

All over the world people are judged by their facial expressions, the way they communicate and the clothes they wear.

But a recent study contradicts this age old protocol stating that compared to facial expressions, body language provides better cues in trying to judge whether an observed subject has undergone good or bad experiences.

Researchers in a study found that participants in a test group were confused on viewing photographs of people who were undergoing real life highly intense positive and negative experiences. 

They later asked the viewers to judge the emotional valences of the positive and negative faces there were shown, their responses were within the realm of chance.

This interesting finding was carried out by Dr. Hillel Aviezer of the Psychology Department of the Hebrew University, together with Dr. Yaacov Trope of New York University and Dr. Alexander Todorov of Princeton University.

In order to test the perception of highly intense faces, the test group was presented with images of dozens of highly intense facial expressions in a variety of real life emotional situations.

The researchers stated an example of a study that compared the emotional expressions of professional tennis players winning or losing a point. They considered these pictures highly appropriate as such images show a gamut of expressions in full form as a lot is at stake for professional players

Different versions of the pictures were shown to the three groups in order to reveal how people recognize such images. Aviezer and his colleagues initially showed the full picture with the face and body, next the body with the face removed, lastly the face with the body removed.

To their surprise the participants could easily tell apart the losers from winners when they rated the full picture or the body alone, but they were at chance level when rating the face alone.

Those who viewed full image believed that it was the face that clearly revealed the emotional impact and not the body. This was termed as 'illusory valence' by the researchers.

Apart from this the viewers were asked to examine a more broad range of  real-life intense faces which included intense positive situations such as joy, victory as well as negative situations that included grief, pain and defeat.

Again, viewers were unable to tell separately the faces occurring in positive vs. negative situations. To further show how unclear these intense faces are, the researchers "planted" faces on bodies expressing positive or negative emotion. Sure enough, the emotional valence of the same face on different bodies was determined by the body, flipping from positive to negative depending on the body with which they appeared.

"These results show that when emotions become extremely intense, the difference between positive and negative facial expression blurs," says Aviezer. "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 adds: "From a practical-clinical perspective, the results may help researchers understand how body/face expressions interact during emotional situations. For example, individuals with autism may fail to recognize facial expressions, but perhaps if trained to process important body cues, their performance may significantly improve."

The story was published in the journal Science.

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