Fake Smile, Real Emotions

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The NewScientist shares research from Japan that showcases how fake smiles can have a big impact on consumers.

Shigeo Yoshida and colleagues from the University of Tokyo are developing what they call an Emotions Evoking System.  The researchers are working from a well believed thesis that physiological changes can cause emotional changes.  

They created a computer system that can affect the way subjects feel emotionally.  The system takes an image of the subject and then presents an altered one. The manipulated version alters the face to be frowning or smiling.

The researchers brought in 21 volunteers and had them sit in front of a screen doing various tasks.  The screen appears like a mirror and the computer program works to alter their face and area around their eyes to depict a smile or frown.  At the end of the tasks the participants were asked to report how they were feeling.  Those whose images were altered to smiles felt happier while those who were shown frowning reported feeling less happy.

Yoshida then wanted to see if the computer program could be used to affect participants’ preferences.  Instead of having to perform a task, volunteers were asked to try on a scarf.  Participants shown a smile while wearing the scarf were more likely to report liking the scarf, while those altered to frown did not. 

Seeing that their computer program can successfully alter emotion, they suggest that it can also be used to persuade consumers into buying certain products.  If retailers replace mirrors with screens as in the study the computer program can alter customer’s faces while they shop and try things on. This could help boost stores earnings as customers are more likely to purchase items if they see themselves as happy with the product. 

You could argue that if it makes people happy what harm is it doing? says Chris Creed from the University of Birmingham, UK. On the other hand, I can imagine that many people may feel manipulated, uncomfortable and cheated if they found out.

Creed explains that while the idea is interesting it will be much harder to execute in an actual retail store.  Labs are more controlled while in a store there are more people and more expressions being used.  To alter the expressions both effectively and believably in a store would also be difficult.  Lastly Creed points out the ethical issues associated with this kind of technology,

Check out the video below for another interesting example of how mirrors can evoke emotion.

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Would you feel manipulated and cheated by fake expressions?

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