Subtle Disgust

Some of you may have seen Miss California Carrie Prejean on the Miss America Pageant last year. Prejean was faced with a tough question during the Q&A portion of the show, when she was asked her opinion on gay marriage by Perez Hilton, a popular Hollywood blogger.

While you may or may not have agreed with Prejean’s answer, did you notice the subtle disgust she showed while Hilton was questioning her?

Take a look at the video below and our commentary:

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0:19-0:24 Hilton says “Vermont recently became the 4th state to legalize same sex marriage”

The camera pans to Prejean at 0:24. Notice the subtle disgust Prejean is showing around her nose area, producing a very subtle horseshoe shape.

Freeze frame particularly at 0:28 seconds. Notice the horseshoe shape is even more prominent now that Hilton has asked her “Do you think every state should follow suit, why or why not?”

Prejean answers: “Well I think its great that Americans can chose one of the other; um, we live in a land where you can choose same sex marriage or opposite marriage. and you know what? In my country, and in my family I think that I believe that a marriage should be between a man and a woman, no offense to anybody but that’s how I was raised and that’s how I think it should be between a man and a woman. Thank you”

Obviously, she is very nervous and stutters through her answer (as probably any normal person would be).

Her word choice is particularly interesting and a bit ironic, since through her statement, she clearly offended people: “No offense to anybody, but that’s how I was raised and that’s how I think it should be…”

What do you think Prejean’s true feelings were at this time and what do you think about her word choice?

16 responses to “Subtle Disgust”

  1. Ian Trudel says:

    I’d like to point out another word choice that is peculiar: “in my country”.

    This is very peculiar to the point I was wondering if she was from another country! I believe she is telling us her true feelings about the subject: she thinks same sex marriage should NOT be allowed in her country — including states that had already passed the laws.

    I agree with your assessment. The words “No offence to anybody” is often used when a person knows she or he will offend others, e.g. “I don’t want to offend you but you’re ugly.”


  2. Rick Robbins says:

    I think she shows contempt. I feel that since she had such a short time to put the answer to gather she had no choice but to speak her true felling.

  3. Markus says:

    In my opinion she is not really hiding what she really feels. She clearly states what she thinks

    (“In my country, and in my family I think that I believe that a marriage should be between a man and a woman, no offense to anybody but that’s how I was raised and that’s how I think it should be between a man and a woman. Thank you”)

    As for her choice of words i would say that her emphasis on “MY” country and “MY” family shows her opinin on same sex marrige.

    The first sentence, “Well I think its great that Americans can chose one of the other”, to me sounds like a classic “beauty pageant answer”. Wich to me means that there is not much sincerity behind it, just empty words that is suppose to sound good.

  4. Russ Conte says:

    I’m interested in what others see, here are my perceptions:
    She’s initially nervous (as I expect everyone is in that situation), but I don’t see any reaction when Perez Hilton says at the beginning that she should be worried.

    The disgust expression is very small – I didn’t see it. What struck me is that her answer starts in generalities, and she is looking all over the place. Then she gains her confidence, looks at Hilton some five times, and says her famous quote that she thinks marriage should be between a man and a woman. I think she left feeling a lot of emotions (some quickly changing, some coming in layers) – she later wrote that she knew that her honest answer cost her the crown (which seemed to be true), and yet she did her best to respond with poise and confidence in telling her point of view. I don’t any emotional leaks in her facial expressions or body language (it all looks very well practiced to me), maybe others do and can cite them.

    What do others see here?

    Russ Conte

  5. Keith D. says:

    I don’t think the gay marriage issue from either side is one what’s particularly important to her personally, beyond the implications of her beliefs among family members, friends, or other communities such as her church or neighbors who may be important to her and therefore hold sway over her. When she started talking, she showed subtle disgust, but we don’t know why she would feel that way. She could find the question inappropriate, too difficult to answer, require her to give an answer which highlights a conflict of values in her, or the whole idea of gay marriage may just be disgusting to her for any number of reasons.

    The way she answered the question, it felt to me as if she was having a personal conflict. I suspect that her answer started out honestly- that she believes in our system of freedom of conscience and people’s right to make their own choices in how to live their lives- but then she didn’t know how to word her answer in a way that wouldn’t seem to conflict with the values imposed upon her by her personal community, be it friends, family members, neighbors, church etc. and so she determined her best course would be to fall back on the answer that her imposed values would require of her. I think she was being true to *herself* with her answer, but I don’t think she was being true to her own beliefs. The latter part of her answer sounded too rote to me, it didn’t sound like she was speaking from the heart.

  6. Ian Trudel says:

    Russ, you’d be surprised how often people have a delayed reaction. Reactions can happen by anticipation, immediately or completely afterwards. It really depends on the intensity of/and what is to react to.

    It’s probably not the first contest Miss California participate to and practice does indeed help to handle the stress. She does have reactions about whether or not she should be worried and the most interesting is when Perez Hilton says “You should be!” — blink, shifting her stance (slightly taller/straight), losing her smile.

    The preview image shows the expression rather well: You may have been looking for the “nose wrinkle” but you should check the upper lip instead. I do see subtle disgust.

    Markus, I agree with you because it does sound a classic beauty pageant answer. Notice smooth people use the same technique to reduce other’s resistance to what they’re saying by first agreeing with another person in some way and then move on with their opinion.

    The question is: would people enjoy her sincerity if she just said “They shouldn’t [legalize same sex marriage] because it’s stupid” ?


  7. Tiffany says:

    Yep, I sure do see it.

  8. I’d like to add to everyone’s comments that the disgust really isn’t clear and if you picked up on it, that is pretty good.

    Be careful also because the action for disgust is also used with speech and when it occurs coincidentally with speech, the interpretation becomes mushy. If you can see the action occur but not timed with speech, then it’s easier, but in her case it was basically pasted on the whole time. In addition, that same muscle is used when social smiling often, which makes it more difficult to disentangle.

    Having said that I do think that she was disgusted. There is nothing micro about her expression, but its extremely low intensity and as this post suggest, subtle.

  9. Jack says:

    I just wanted to point out, we arent looking for deception here but emotion. Alot of people get confused with facial expressions and deception. She is disgusted by same sex marrage. She knows there are homosexual people are going to be offended thus the “no offence” i think she started to lie, probably going to say something on the lines of “i think its great we can choose ect ect” but with the short time to think she broke off, told her own fealings and at the end there is a huge genuine smile on her face that she told her fealings and people are cheering her. Also i think she uses alot of botox as there is no Duchenne smile in her eyes, but you can deffinatly tell its genuine with her cheeks still pushing up creating the dimples.

  10. Keith D. says:

    Thank you for that additional information Dr. Matsumoto. It brings to mind a new question from me.

    You mention that that muscle occurs coincidentally with speech, and it made me wonder whether there is a list of muscles and muscle groups used in producing the various phonemes of speech, perhaps built on the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) so that the information could be used when analyzing expressions during speech regardless of which language the speaker is speaking in? If not, that could be a worthwhile product to develop for those in the relevant fields.

  11. Ian Trudel says:

    Keith, it’s an absolutely amazing idea! I love it! 🙂

  12. Javier says:

    Doing a little comments about the video.
    At first time i thought she was feeling fear behind her smile. She is really nervous about what kind of the question is going to be asked at the first moment (i’m not sure, but playing the video many times maybe you can see lightly, how is she trying to control her breathing and then she swallows . After that I really think she tells the trhuth about what does she is thinking. I agree with the subtle of disgust during her speech. She really feels all the things she is talking about, giving us her opinion. Unfortunately the guy, at the end of the video seems feeling upset and sad for her answer.
    This is my opinion. I love this kind of topics with videos, quite interesting to read all of you.
    Regards to all.

  13. Russ Conte says:

    I’m not as sharp on subtle expressions (and yes, I do own a license for one of the Sub-X products, it does help!), so I’ll watch again to see the subtle sign of disgust, thanks again!

    On a related note (to Keith’s point). I am a supervisor in a staffing service. I took a message off the voice messages this morning that was for another supervisor. I sent the other supervisor an email summary of the message (the employee said in the voice message that they did not want this job or that job, and would be OK if we never called this person again for any job). The voice message was saved so the intended supervisor could listen to it.

    Her reply to my written comments were along the lines of “OK, I understand”. Then she listened to the recorded message from the employee, and she wrote “I couldn’t hear the utter disgust with me in your email message”, but she could in the recorded message. So I asked what I could have put in the written message that would have conveyed the disgust the employee was very clearly feeling and entirely audible in the recorded message, and my co-worker replied that there was nothing she could think of that would have done so in this case.

    Whatever disgust is, I heard it loud and clear this morning, and I think it’s more than phonetics. I’m about as far from a speech expert as you can get, but I’m still interested if the characteristics of audible disgust can be characterized as much as the visual ones have been. To the best of my knowledge, this is still a very open question in the research community, but it has received some attention. (see for example Telling Lies, pps 92-98).

    Great comments all! 🙂

    Russ Conte

  14. Ian Trudel says:

    Russ, no worries since recognizing subtle expressions while a person is talking is extremely difficult. I think you just need to practice more until you feel comfortable to identify subtle expressions. SubX is indeed excellent for this purpose and you can also watch videos over the web. This is important because the better you are at identifying them the faster you can identify macro- and micro-expressions, i.e. during their onset!

    Do you have DownloadHelper and a good playback video software? The playback video software has to allow you to play in slow motion. SMPlayer is a good open source choice and it also allows to display motion vectors.

    Recognizing emotions in written statements is the most difficult and there are a lot of misunderstandings and conflicts caused by the mere fact a person do not see the face and/or hear the voice. Furthermore, it’s important not to assume everybody is able to recognize every emotion efficiently (or at all) regardless of which form it is (written, audio or facial). You’ve got the training and it’s fine. Your coworkers may not. What’s obvious to you may not be obvious to others, which means you have to make sure they understand your point.

    Mental state can inhibit one’s ability to recognize certain emotions: People With Severe Depression Have Difficultly Recognizing Disgust.

    I have to say that you do have an excellent job to practice your skills. 🙂

    I’d like to recommend you a video to practice another subtle expression while a person is talking. The video is in French but it’s fine since you should concentrate on what you see. The segment of interest is between 03:36-03:52 and there is a subtle smile or contempt while talking toward the end of this segment. You can read my entire article with an English transcript once you’ve found out.

    It’s great the participation on this blog has increased!
    The articles are more and more interesting as well! 🙂


  15. Keith,

    I think there are a number of lower face AUs used in the production of English sounds, but different AUs probably for different languages.


  16. John says:

    I saw disgust minimally expressed by Carrie Prejean but it is micro and it is hard to assume that the AU9 was an actual component since emotion and fake facial expression is part of learning in this population.

    What I do find interesting is Perez Hilton’s display of contempt for her answer. You see the the decline from an intense unilateral expression of AU 12. The de-constriction indicates that the unilateral AU 12 L was engaged and once the camera focuses back on Perez, the muscle is disengaging.

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