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Bodies, not faces, reveal truth about how people feel

Friday - Nov 30, 2012, 03:43pm (GMT+5.5)
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London - It is a person’s body that gives away what they are thinking, not their expression, a new research has suggested.

According to the study, men and women who were given photos of individuals and asked to judge the emotion shown did badly when just given head and shoulders shots, but they did much better with images of the whole person, the Daily Mail reported.

First the researchers showed volunteers pictures of tennis players including Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal as they experienced the highs and lows of winning and losing points at Wimbledon. Given the faces alone, they couldn’t tell the winners from the losers.

But with a face and body, or just the body, they could easily tell who was victorious. The key seemed to be in the players’ hands, with a clenched fist denoting a win and splayed fingers a loss.

Again the volunteers were shown pictures of people experiencing a range of emotions, from the joy of seeing one’s house after a lavish makeover, to the grief of attending a funeral.

Here also they were poor judges when simply shown the faces. In fact, they often rated the happy expressions more negatively than the sad ones.

To further prove that it is the body and not the face that is key in expression emotion, the researchers created fake photos in which a happy face was planted on a sad body and vice versa. Again, it was the body that was the giveaway.

The Israeli and American researchers said that when our feelings are very intense, our facial muscles might do a poor job of expressing our emotions.

“Much like speakers blaring at maximum volume, the quality of the facial signal becomes degraded and noisy,” the paper quoted them as writing in the journal Science.

Lead researcher Dr Hillel Aviezer, of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said: “Western society has the idea that the most important source of information is the face. The research says maybe we should zoom out and try to take a broader look. Emotions happen to the whole person.”

“The results may help researchers understand how body/face expressions interact during emotional situations,” Dr Aviezer added.

But he noted that reading faces is still important when trying to distinguish more subtle emotions.





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