Dr John Habershon has spent many hundreds of hours conducting in-depth interviews during his career in consumer and social research. Over the last eight years he has analysed the nonverbal responses captured on video on a wide range of topics, ranging from favorite products and advertising on TV, to bereavement and stress at work. He became involved in work for those on the autism spectrum through friends with Asperger's in the family and has created Emotions Reader, (https://vimeo.com/ondemand/readingemotionssystem) an interactive program with quizzes to help users identify facial expressions. John has a long standing interest in understanding emotions, having gained his PhD on the psychological effects of unemployment at Imperial College, London University. He has been elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. http://www.momentumresearch.co.uk/
Anxiousness is one of those emotional states we see in the face; but perhaps most of all we see it in the movements of the body.
(Note: there is purposely no audio with the above video)
When we become anxious we lose some control over our actions. Carrie’s hands are raised, partially coverng her face, as her fingers scratch nervously. Her gaze is unfocused and shifts direction from side to side and then upwards.
Feeling anxious or distressed is shown in the mouth – and here Carrie’s mouth is stretched and then becomes slack and turned down. She’s at a loss as to how to answer a difficult question, as she gives way to negative thoughts.
When someone is in the grips of anxiety they temporarily go into an emotional ‘bubble,’ losing awareness of the person they are having a discussion with.
Signs to note
partially covering her face with her hands
shifting direction of gaze from left to right, then up
Heather smiles gently as she watches the video about a celebration in Africa. To be fascinated by something means that it captures your imagination and you want to give it your full attention. Heather leans forward (always a sign of interest) towards the TV screen.
She stares intently at the screen, following the action with her eyes. Active thinking is a central part of fascination. We can see thinking going on in the way she strokes her lip with her little finger. We get the sense that she is ‘in the moment’, giving her complete attention to the screen.
In a split second when she’s intensely interested her eyes close a little and then widen. If you look carefully you will also see an intake of breath.
Heather is not pleased with the TV ad she’s watching and we can tell this by the combination of two subtle signs. First, there is a slight lowering of her brow. We tend to associate this with being puzzled, but it’s also a general negative sign. When the brow is lowered the eyes become more narrow. When we narrow our eyes we are going into a defensive mode. The opposite of this would be when we are relaxed and the eyes open wide to the world around us.
How to read the feeling of discomfort in facial expressions and body language
In the last blog we looked at more than one emotion on the face (Disbelief/Irritation). This week one overwhelming and strong emotion is showing through: discomfort.
Benjamin is watching a somewhat controversial TV ad and although he sits quite still we can see several signs which point to his discomfort.
He takes a deep breath and quickly shifts the direction of his gaze, attempting not to focus too sharply on what he’s been asked to watch. He breathes out and closes his eyes for a second (too long to be a blink) in an effort to shut out the scene on the TV.
When we look at something which we find disturbing (or even think of something we find uncomfortable) we often close our eyes, as if that will give us a moment of respite.
Benjamin continues watching, but with a blank stare, his mouth tightly closed.
Carrie is more than puzzled by the question she has just been asked; she is confused.
Her eyes give away her feelings of confusion in different ways.
Firstly, there is a lack of focus as she looks into the middle distance trying to find an answer. Secondly, there are several changes in direction as she looks up and down, racking her brain for a response. This lack of focus and rapid change in the direction of the gaze is always a sign of mental struggle, discomfort or even distress.
She also wrinkles her nose and brow.
Carrie’s mouth shows her exasperation. She closes her mouth tightly, holds her breath and pushes her lips forward.
How can we tell when someone is thinking hard about a question?
There are some simple signs when a person’s mind is really working – when a problem holds their attention completely. It takes effort, and we often see this in movement in the mouth and the brow.
Amanda is looking directly at John, but we can see by her gaze that her brain is fully engaged. As she reflects on the question, she glances away and then back. The combination of working her mouth, and her steady gaze shows she is completely absorbed in thinking about the issue.
She also nods to indicate that she is considering the question carefully.
We don’t go through life strongly agreeing or disagreeing with what our friends or colleagues tell us. More often we simply accept what is said. In fact among friends, in particular, simple acceptance is the normal response.
(Note: there is purposely no audio with the above video)
So this first expression of emotion is a good place to begin. It’s an example of something subtle and commonplace, but nevertheless important to read. For example, if you want to run through a plan for when to do a chore today, or what to buy for dinner. How can you tell when someone accepts what you are saying? We will see later in this series when someone looks actively interested, but this example is more subtle.
It’s when someone is saying, “Yes, sure I’ll buy that” or “Yes, I’ve thought about it and it’s okay”.