Research has shown that looking at facial expressions alone cannot determine what the true emotion is like. For example, a U.S. researcher says that body language rather than facial expressions shows the world what's happening to an individual, according to a recent study. If you think that you can judge by examining someone's facial expressions if he has just hit the jackpot in the lottery or lost everything in the stock market -- think again.
In the photo above this article, facial expressions numbered 1,4,6 show tennis player's face on losing a point. Expressions numbered 2,3,5 show a player after winning a point. Tests show that those looking at facial expressions alone cannot determine what the true emotion is.
Researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and in the USA at New York University and also at Princeton University have discovered that -- despite what leading theoretical models and conventional wisdom might indicate -- it just doesn't work that way. Rather, they found that body language provides a better cue in trying to judge whether an observed subject has undergone strong positive or negative experiences.
In a study published the week of Nov. 29, 2012 in the journal Science, the researchers present data showing that viewers in test groups were baffled when shown photographs of people who were undergoing real-life, highly intense positive and negative experiences. When the viewers were asked to judge the emotional valences of the faces they were shown (that is, the positivity or negativity of the faces), their guesses fell within the realm of chance.
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 led the study. In setting out to test the perception of highly intense faces, the researchers presented test groups with photos of dozens of highly intense facial expressions in a variety of real-life emotional situations.
Emotional expressions compared with body language
For example, in one study they compared emotional expressions of professional tennis players winning or losing a point. These pictures are ideal because the stakes in such games are extremely high from an economic and prestige perspective. To pinpoint how people recognize such images, Aviezer and his colleagues showed different versions of the pictures to three groups of participants:
1) the full picture with the face and body
2) the body with the face removed
3) the face with the body removed.
Remarkably, 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. Ironically, the participants who viewed the full image (face and body) were convinced that it was the face that revealed the emotional impact, not the body.
The authors named this effect "illusory valence," reflecting the fact that participants said they saw clear valence (that is, either positive or negative emotion) in what was objectively a non-diagnostic face. In an additional study, Aviezer and his collaborators asked viewers to examine a more broad range of real-life intense faces.
These included intense positive situations, such as joy (seeing one's house after a lavish makeover), pleasure (experiencing an orgasm), and victory (winning a critical tennis point), as well as negative situations, such as grief (reacting at a funeral), pain (undergoing a nipple/naval piercing), and defeat (losing a critical tennis point).
Again, viewers were unable to tell apart the faces occurring in positive vs. negative situations. To further demonstrate how ambiguous 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 in the November 29, 2012 news release, Body language, not facial expressions, broadcasts what's happening to us. "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 in the news release, "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." For further information also see the article, "What is more important body language or facial expressions?"
Body language also can indicate your socioeconomic status
In a different study, researchers wanted to find out whether socioeconomic status (SES) is determined by a number of factors such as wealth, occupation and schools attended. SES influences the food we eat, hobbies we participate in and can even have an impact on our health.
For example, someone with an upper socioeconomic status (SES) background can often be accused of flaunting their status, such as by the types of cars they drive or how many pairs of Manolo Blahniks they have in their closet. It is easy to guess someone's SES based on their clothing and the size of their home. But what about more subtle clues?
Can body language indicate your socioeconomic status?
Psychologists Michael W. Kraus and Dacher Keltner of the University of California, Berkeley wanted to see if non-verbal cues (that is, body language) can indicate our SES. To test this idea, the researchers videotaped participants as they got to know one another in one-on-one interview sessions. During these taped sessions, the researchers looked for two types of behaviors: disengagement behaviors (including fidgeting with personal objects and doodling) and engagement behaviors (including head nodding, laughing and eye contact).
The results, reported in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, reveal that nonverbal cues can give away a person's SES. Volunteers whose parents were from upper SES backgrounds displayed more disengagement-related behaviors compared to participants from lower SES backgrounds.
Lack of dependence displayed in body language of people from upper socioeconomic status
In addition, when a separate group of observers were shown 60 second clips of the videos, they were able to correctly guess the participants' SES background, based on their body language, according to the news release, "Rich man, poor man: study shows body language can indicate socioeconomic status."
The researchers note that this is the first study to show a relation between SES and social engagement behavior. They surmise that people from upper SES backgrounds who are wealthy and have access to prestigious institutions tend to be less dependent on others. "This lack of dependence among upper SES people is displayed in their nonverbal behaviors during social interactions," the psychologists conclude, according to the February 4, 2009 news release, "Rich man, poor man: study shows body language can indicate socioeconomic status."
Why are people who have lower socioeconomic status linked with heart disease?
Are people who have lower socioeconomic status so worried about or about how others judge them that their income level is linked with heart disease, despite improvements in other risk facts? The local Sacramento/Davis study from the University of California - Davis Health System study "Do Changes in Traditional Coronary Heart Disease Risk Factors Over Time Explain the Association between Socio-Economic Status and Coronary Heart Disease?" is available online.
People with lower socioeconomic status are much more likely to develop heart disease than those who are wealthier or better educated, according to a recent UC Davis study. Published online in BMC Cardiovascular Disorders, the outcomes also show that this risk persists even with long-term progress in addressing traditional risk factors such as smoking, high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol.
People with lower incomes or education levels need more aggressive treatment
"Being poor or having less than a high school education can be regarded as an extra risk when assessing a patient's chances of developing cardiovascular disease," said Peter Franks, a UC Davis professor of family and community medicine and lead author of the study. "People with low socioeconomic status need to have their heart-disease indicators managed more aggressively."
Using data from the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study, authors of the current study included information on more than 12,000 people aged 45 to 64 years living in North Carolina, Mississippi, Minnesota and Maryland. Participants reported their education and income levels in 1987, and then over the course of 10 years were periodically evaluated for heart-disease diagnoses and changes in their risk factors, including cholesterol, blood pressure and smoking.
The results indicated that people with lower socioeconomic status had a 50 percent greater risk of developing heart disease than other study participants.
According to Franks, although it is known that people with low socioeconomic status have a greater risk for developing heart disease and other health problems, the reason is often attributed to reduced health-care access or poor adherence to treatments such as smoking cessation or medication. This study showed for the first time that the increased risk endured despite long-term improvements in other risk factors, indicating that access and adherence could not account for the differences.
"Low socioeconomic status is a heart-disease risk factor on its own and needs to be regarded as such by the medical community," Franks said, according to the August 26, 2011 news release, "Lower socioeconomic status linked with heart disease despite improvements in other risk factors." According to Franks, previous studies could help explain the link between low socioeconomic status and increased heart-disease risk.
Social disadvantages and adversity in childhood may result in lasting adaptations to stress that take a bigger toll on the heart. Cumulative effects of social disadvantage throughout the lifespan could also cause more "wear and tear" on the cardiovascular system.
Does being poor cause more wear and tear on your organs or on the system?
Franks advocates for including socioeconomic status in the Framingham risk assessment, a tool based on outcomes from the Framingham Heart Study, which is commonly used to determine treatments for heart-disease prevention. He points out that health-care providers in the United Kingdom already consider socioeconomic status in determining care plans.
"Doctors could, for instance, moderately increase the dosage of cholesterol-lowering drugs to reflect the higher risk imposed by socioeconomic status," said Franks, whose research focuses on addressing health-care disparities. "Changes like this would be easy to implement, and the benefits could be significant."
Will prescriptions of the future increase if you're poor rather than dietary changes?
Imagine what would happen if doctors suddenly increased drug prescriptions to reflect the risks due to your socioeconomic (or income) status instead of directing you to a vegan reversal diet and a change of activities or exercise and stopping smoking, excess drinking, or eating too many sweets or processed foods?
The alternative of urban gardening usually isn't prescribed when prescription drugs are available to possibly be increased based on how poor you are or were. Think about the implications for low-income people who do practice healthier lifestyles that don't cost money such as walking and eating more vegetables.
For some people, food solve a lot of heart-disease related issues as good as some drugs if more people understood how to use food as medicine to reverse arteries clogged with soft plaque. The question is which is more affordable to those without much money, the healthiest foods or prescription drugs?
Franks and co-author Daniel Tancredi, assistant professor of pediatrics at UC Davis, are affiliated with the UC Davis Center for Healthcare Policy and Research. Additional authors Paul Winters and Kevin Fiscella are with the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Rochester in New York. Funding from the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute supported this study.