Tags: trait | judgments | assessments | emotional | states

What's Someone Thinking? Here's Where To Look

mind reading


Thursday, 21 November 2019 04:03 PM Current | Bio | Archive

Reading Other People's Minds With Added Accuracy

Have you ever wondered what someone else is thinking?

Aside from what they say, you may perceive more accurate information from the way they look.

Think about the last time you were involved in an important conversation, struggling to figure out what the other person was thinking. Whether you were faced with a partner unconvincingly claiming that everything is "fine," to a boss critiquing your work, to a child reciting what they did after school before they came home — two hours late.

You had an advantage in any of those situations if you were face to face. This is because research reveals that when we actually take the time to have conversations in person, we can detect nonverbal expressions that corroborate or contradict the spoken word — if we know where to look.

The Face Mask

Harriet Overa and Richard Cook, in, "Where Do Spontaneous First Impressions of Faces Come From (2018), provide a novel account of the origin of first impressions from faces.

They list some of the traits we spontaneously attribute to strangers based solely on their face as including: honesty, intelligence, dominance, competence, trustworthiness, and likability.

They identify the two primary trait dimensions we perceive as trustworthiness and dominance.

Overa and Cook (ibid.) note that facial cues which prompt observer judgments include permanent features which resemble emotions — such as low eyebrows, commonly associated with displays of anger, which might prompt an inference of dominance.

Yet they also explain the impact of other features such as facial symmetry, width, infantile features (which are often judged as trustworthy), and masculine features — another factor leading to perceived dominance when judging male faces.

But are such observations always accurate?

Other research notes the answer depends on where on another person´s face we look when we are searching for interpretive emotion.

Revealing Emotion

Hedwig Eisenbarth and Georg W. Alpers in, "Happy Mouth and Sad Eyes: Scanning Emotional Facial Expressions" (from 2011) reveals the importance of examining the parts of the face most likely to reveal emotion. Among their results was the finding that with all emotional expressions, subjects were likely to initially fixate on either the eyes or the mouth.

Particularly when viewing sad facial expressions, they looked first at the eyes compared with all other expressions. When viewing happy facial expressions, participants spent more time fixating on the mouth region.

They also found that when viewing sad and angry facial expressions, participants looked more at the eyes than the mouth. They explain that their results demonstrate that not all facial expressions are decoded equally, and that people look at areas of the face that are most characteristic for each emotion.

Seeing is Believing

One of the reasons facial emotional scanning is important is because not only do we quickly form impressions from the faces of strangers, our choices and behaviors are determined by what we see.

Overa and Cook (supra) note that spontaneous facial impressions impact behavior in everything from criminal sentencing decisions, to voting patterns, to employment decisions.

How quickly do we read faces?

Overa and Cook (supra) note that adults make trait judgments after viewing faces for only 100 milliseconds.

And regarding how early in our development we perform this analysis, they explain that children as young as 3 are able to perceive whether someone is "strong" or "nice," and that children as young as 7 months prefer faces that are trustworthy rather than untrustworthy.

Taking the Time to Look

The catch here, is that in order to get an accurate read, we have to look.

In a world where many people would rather talk than text, we miss opportunities to get to know each other much better then we can from misspelled words on a computer screen.

By getting to know a person´s emotional baseline, and spending time with them in different settings and contexts, we are in a good position to emotionally read expressions and reactions that will reveal valuable information about character traits.

Obviously, our assessments will not always be correct, because some people are good actors. But most people wear their emotional states on their sleeves more than they realize.

On the flip side, spending time in person also facilitates bonding, builds rapport, and gives your conversation partner an opportunity to read you.

This column was originally published in Psychology Today.

Wendy L. Patrick is a career prosecutor, named the Ronald M. George Public Lawyer of the Year, and recognized by her peers as one of the Top Ten criminal attorneys in San Diego by the San Diego Daily Transcript. She has completed over 150 trials ranging from human trafficking, to domestic violence, to first-degree murder. She is President of the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals San Diego Chapter and an ATAP Certified Threat Manager. Dr. Patrick is a frequent media commentator with over 4,000 appearances including CNN, Fox News Channel, Newsmax, and many others. She is author of "Red Flags" (St. Martin´s Press), and co-author of the revised version of the New York Times bestseller "Reading People" (Random House). On a personal note, Dr. Patrick holds a purple belt in Shorin-Ryu karate, is a concert violinist with the La Jolla Symphony, and plays the electric violin with a rock band. To read more of her reports — Click Here Now.

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By getting to know a person´s emotional baseline, and spending time with them in different settings and contexts, we are in a good position to emotionally read expressions and reactions that will reveal valuable information about character traits.
trait, judgments, assessments, emotional, states
Thursday, 21 November 2019 04:03 PM
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