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Buster Benson

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20: facial expressions
Do you believe the facial feedback hypothesis?  It claims that facial expressions are as good at causing emotion as they are at expressing existing emotion.  A couple different people have tried to test this, but the only one that I could find with any significant results was one where people held a pen in their mouths in two different ways: one resulting in a sort of smile, and the other resulting in a sort of frown.  The control group held the pen in their hand.  And then they were rated on difficulty of the task.  The smilers had the least difficulty.

I remember reading in Blink about this guy that cataloged all of the different components of facial expression... there are 46 of them.  And another 18 that are more about the head than the face.  That's a good sized alphabet.  It would be fun to see how well we each knew our facial alphabet.  Of course, be careful about them because if the hypothesis is right, you might stir yourself up.

I think I believe it.  And I don't think it's limited to facial expressions.  I think simple things like changing your posture can have a big impact on your mood.  Maybe even your personality.  Do you change when you put on high heels?  Or an ironed shirt?  Or when you cross your arms versus holding them on your head versus putting them in your pocket?  I wonder how much of it is related to us reading our own body language versus the body language actually changing our emotions?  I wonder if it should be tested on blind people, and lepers, to be really scientific.  I wonder what this means about Botox.

Tonight might involve science experiments with my iMac's photobooth.  Haha.

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i believe it. sometimes i slap a smile on. it's cheesy but it works.

it works, yeah, but it's also a little scary on some people. :) maybe another way to think about it is that we originally smile when we're happy, and then continue to be happy because we're smiling. maybe it's as much about being a way preserve emotions as to create them from scratch. i don't know. strange that something as simple as this would still be so mysterious to me though.

but what about the wisdom of peter bjorn and john ("... you still can make sense, if you just show up and present an honest face, instead of that grin.") regarding this topic ?

What is an honest face though? If this theory is true... it's not a one-way street from emotion to face and face flows back to emotion. Want to scalp tickets for that show on Sunday?

inverse scalp, you mean? Let me see what the guestlist situation looks like. Either way, I want to go.

One day last summer, I decided that I wanted to get my "PhD in Body Language" (better when said lasciviously), and I went to the UW libraries and pulled out a bunch of journals about nonverbal communication and studied them for 5 hours. Salient points:

Narcissists are the worst body language readers, but they think they're the best.
People are more able to perceive emotions when subjects are positioned to their left.
Closer friends were especially inept at identifying concealed negativity (!).
And all kinds of fascinating things about "body language eavesdropping" which would take too long to write here.

The result of my academic pursuit was that I started driving myself crazy when I was in public places because I had become TOO aware of my own body language. . .

I've read a bunch of those too... and they do drive you a little crazy. But it's just as weird to realize that we're reading body language all the time, and even really subtle things. Microexpressions are awesome. And if I wanted to get really crazy about it I'd pay a lot more attention to people's eyes, and where they look when they're talking... there's all kinds of information in that stuff.

I've had two conversations about this topic in the last week. I definitely believe in the bootstrapping element of body language/ facial expressions. The feedback loop. Why shouldn't it work when you consider how susceptible our moods are to all sorts of external stimuli- music, food, people, etc. I guess the cool thing is that the external stimulus in this circumstance is contained on our person/ is our person. It's like a portable boardgame made of flesh. gross.

Yeah, gross! Hey, take a look at my first attempt at getting all of the facial action codes down:


Remember when I tried to copy your faces at that Target and I couldn't? I bet you could do these faces ONE MILLION TIMES better. Come on, Jimmy, give it a try! Here's the key:


Gladwell's original New Yorker essay on faces: http://www.gladwell.com/2002/2002_08_05_a_face.htm

Definitely worth reading!

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