Face-Shows-Our-EmotionsOur Eyes May Be Windows To Our Soul, But Our Face Shows Our Emotions

Negotiation and mediation involves communication between the parties, both verbal and non-verbal. Through verbal communications, one party communicates what it wants others to hear. Non-verbal, physical acts may communicate a different message and indicate what the person is feeling. Interpreting these messages may lead you to get to the bottom of the true issues in dispute.

Our emotions can usually be observed by our facial expressions. A popular belief, first proposed by Dr. Paul Ekman, is that there are six basic emotions which can be recognized and interpreted through specific facial expressions: happiness, sadness, fear, anger, surprise and disgust.

Our feelings and our faces

New research in the journal Current Biology, posted on Science Daily, by scientists at the University of Glasgow refutes this view, suggesting there are only four basic emotions: happiness, sadness, fear/surprise and anger/disgust.

This finding was reached by studying the range of different muscles within the face (called Action Units by researchers) involved in signaling different emotions, as well as the time-frame over which each muscle was activated.

  • Researchers claim that while facial expression signaling happiness and sadness are clearly distinct across time, fear and surprise share a common signal, the wide open eyes, early in the signaling dynamics.
  • Anger and disgust share the wrinkled nose. These early signals could represent more basic danger signals.
  • Later facial expressions transmit signals that distinguish all six ‘classic’ facial expressions of emotion.
  • Researchers believe that the initial physical response is based on biology while later responses are socially based, alerting others to our emotions.

It is interesting to look at this emotion set because it shows a progression and evolution of emotions.  In fact, I will in a later post show additional research on this issue which shows a further development of emotions.  In other words, as humans have evolved, they have developed standard facial features that reflect their internal state.  The research also shows that these emotions cannot be suppressed.

High tech used to help us understand emotions

In compiling their research the team used volunteers, special techniques and software developed at the University of Glasgow to synthesize all facial expressions.

  • Cameras captured a three-dimensional image of faces of individuals specially trained to activate all 42 individual facial muscles independently.
  • A computer then generated specific or random facial expressions on a 3D model based on the activation of different Actions Units or groups of units to mimic all facial expressions.
  • Volunteers observed the model as it showed different expressions and stated which emotion was being expressed, allowing researchers to determine which specific Action Units were associated with particular emotions.
  • Researchers found that the signals for fear/surprise and anger/disgust were confused at the early stage of transmission and only became clearer later when other Action Units were activated.

It’s important not only to listen to the other person, but focus on their physical and facial reaction to what you are saying and the situation they are in. Are they happy, disgusted, angry, fearful? With this information, you can refine your approach and perhaps ask the other party how they feel about particular issues, and see if their language matches their facial movements. You may get a much better idea of not only their emotional state, but how truthful they may be.