November 30, 2012

'Mordar, gaydar, even crimidar' yes; but, emotions aren't all in the face

What's in a Face 

Several years ago, a woman named Brook White appeared on the reality TV competition show American Idol. White was 24 years old, blond, and strikingly pretty. When she sang her song, "Like a Star," she struck a familiar chord among some viewers. White said nothing about her religion, but Mormons, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, were certain that she was one of their own.

"She has the Mormon Glow," one blogger wrote, referring to the belief that the faithful radiate the Holy Spirit. White mentioned that she never drank a cup of coffee or watched an R-rated movie—signs of a Mormon-like squeaky-clean lifestyle. But the "glow" clinched it, and it turned out that her fans were right. "I didn't know I was setting off the Mormon radar," White remarked later in an interview with The Arizona Republic.

 White Idol Mormon

Soon after, psychologists Nalini Ambady, then at Tufts University, and Nicholas Rule, at the University of Toronto, set out to test the Mormon glow. One way to do this is to see if even non-Mormons can detect it. The psychologists began their experiment by cropping head shots of Mormons and non-Mormons and asking undergraduate volunteers whether they could pick out the Mormons.

They certainly could—and in just a glance. While random guessing would yield 50 percent accuracy, as in a coin toss, the volunteers accurately identified Mormon men and women 60 percent of the time. (Mormons themselves were only slightly more accurate.) This means that "Mordar" isn't foolproof, but it's statistically significant—about as accurate as the ability to tell if a face looks envious or anxious.

"Thin-slicing" is the term that Ambady and her colleague, Richard Rosenthal, coined in 1992 to describe the ability to infer something about a person's personality, character, or other traits after a very brief exposure. Thin-slicing relies on a brain network that includes the fusiform gyrus, which perceives faces, and the amygdala, which filters that information for anything that might be useful or threatening to survival.
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Over evolutionary time, the ability to quickly extract information from faces has given us an edge in predicting character and behavior. It helps us to discern who's sick and whom to trust, who's flirt worthy, and who might blow up at a moment's notice. To get a sense of others' religiosity, sexual orientation, promiscuity, aggressiveness, competence, intelligence, and even trustworthiness, you might think that you should focus on how they act, not how they look. But then you'd neglect your swiftest insights.

via Ace who remarked "Mordar, gaydar, even crimidar"

But emotions aren't all in the face reports NPR.

Photos of athletes in their moment of victory or defeat usually show faces contorted with intense emotion. But a new study suggests that people actually don't use those kinds of extreme facial expressions to judge how a person is feeling.

Instead, surprisingly, people rely on body cues.
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To test this in another way, he manipulated the photographs. He'd take the face of a winner and paste it onto the body of a loser, or vice versa.    What he found was that the exact same face would be interpreted as showing a positive or negative emotion, depending on which body it was on. These results are reported in the journal Science.

"I think that many people will find this very surprising," says Lisa Feldman Barrett, a scientist at Northeastern University who studies emotions. These studies challenge long-held assumptions about the importance of facial expressions, she says.
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These findings add to a growing body of evidence that when we're trying to figure out another person's emotional state, we rely on a lot more than just the face.
Posted by Jill Fallon at November 30, 2012 10:58 AM | Permalink