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Body Language, Not Facial Expression Conveys Emotion

Update Date: Jan 16, 2013 08:58 AM EST
(Photo : Kevin Steinhardt/Flickr)

For those who think covering the face can stop people from being able to understand the emotion, here's the news: body language can display emotions more effectively.

In a recent study conducted by researchers at Princeton University, it has been found that facial expression may not always give away what a person is feeling. On the other hand, the person's body language depicts emotions more effectively.

This is in contradiction to the widely believed theory that the study of facial expressions is the key to finding the true human emotion. One of the theories was developed by psychologist and University of California-San Francisco Professor Emeritus Paul Ekman. Incidentally, his work has been the inspiration behind the fictional television series "Lie to me".

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In the series of study, the volunteers were asked to judge the emotions of the photographs of the persons given. They had to judge the emotion by studying the facial expression alone, body language alone or facial expression along with body language.

"We find that extremely positive and extremely negative emotions are maximally indistinctive. People can't tell the difference, although they think they can. Subjectively people think they can tell the difference, but objectively they are totally at [random] chance of determining correctly. The message of this research is that there is a lot of information on body language people aren't necessarily aware of," Alexander Todorov, senior researcher and Princeton Professor of Psychology was quoted as saying in Medical Express.

Todorov suggested that if the emotion is intense, then the facial expression or its reading might become blurred. He compared it to the volume on stereo speakers, which, when increased, leads to a distorted sound.

"There's much more ambiguity in the face than we assume there is. We assume that the face conveys whatever is in the person's mind, that we can recognize their emotions. But that's not necessarily true. If we remove all the other contextual clues, we might not be so good at picking out emotional clues," Todorov said.

So while the face and its myriad of expressions might sometimes be misleading, body language is a clear indication of what the person is feeling.

The details of the research are available in the journal Science.

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