Reading Emotion in Nonverbal & Facial Expressions

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

This lesson goes over several aspects of emotion. You'll learn the effects of facial expressions on feelings, how genders differ with respect to nonverbal communication, and more.

Emotions, Men, & Women

Do you smile because you're happy, and can a smile make you happy? Are women from Venus and men from Mars when it comes to nonverbal communication? Can you detect the emotions of another?

There are all fascinating questions that science has tried to explain. And what's cool is that we do have some answers (although tentative). This lesson will consider the questions posed above.

Detecting Emotion in Others

Wouldn't it be cool if you could be a human lie detector? You'd be able to 'read' nonverbal communication like the facial expressions of another or the way they use their body to sit, stand, or express themselves. With all that information, you may be able to tell if they were lying, wouldn't you?

With the rare, and at that debatable, exception, most of us cannot be human lie detectors. Even the so-called 'pros' are incorrect a large chunk of the time when thoroughly tested. There are two main reasons for why this is the case. First of all, without proper training, a lot of people are actually bad at interpreting the emotional cues given off by facial expressions and other nonverbal hints. This is doubly true for subtle and very short emotional expressions, ones that many people either never notice or simply ignore as nothing. The second reason is context. Even experts in the field of detecting and understanding emotion through facial expressions or other nonverbal cues can only do so much with that information. Here's one specific example of why that is the case.

Let's say that you are questioning a subject as to their whereabouts last night. They tell you they were with a friend. You spot a quick move of the hand and a facial expression that you've been told is a sign of nervousness. You begin to think they are lying. Why else would they be nervous? Unfortunately, your judgement may be way off base. Could they be lying and that's why they're nervous? Sure. But there could be plenty of other reasons. Maybe they weren't lying about being with their friend but they are nervous that their friend is in trouble. Maybe they weren't lying about being with their friend but they are nervous about being interrogated by a police officer. Who wouldn't be? Thus, nonverbal communication may tell you how a person feels, but it does not tell you why they feel that way!

Facial Expressions Influencing Emotions

On the topic of how we feel, we know that when we're happy, we smile. When we're unhappy, we frown. Everyone knows those basics. But can a forced smile make you happy? Can a forced frown make you unhappy? Some research says yes. Now, the effect isn't as large as you might think. The research doesn't suggest that a person in deep despair over the loss of a child will suddenly feel ecstatic if they force a smile onto their face.

Instead, it appears that the physical act of using the muscles of your face to form an expression produces a modest swing in that direction in terms of feeling. It's not clear exactly why this occurs. It may be that your brain's circuitry is hard-wired to understand that certain facial expressions are connected to specific emotions. Thus, a smile forced onto the face is like a light switch that turns on the happy lights inside the brain even if they weren't on in the first place.

Nonverbal Emotion in Men Vs. Women

It's said that happiness in relationships is determined in great part by how a couple communicates. And when it comes to nonverbal communication strategies, there is some evidence that men are from Mars and women are from Venus.

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