Human Perception of Emotion

Have you ever thought of how a person’s body language affects you?  Have you disliked a person after only spending a short time with them and couldn’t figure out why? What does your body tell the people around you?

According to an article from Discovery.com our bodies communicate a lot without the use of words.  It states that the way we hold our bodies gives the people around us clues to our emotional state.

Indeed, its true. Research has shown the up to 90% of messages are communicated non verbally.

An example of how powerful the communication of our bodies is, is when we say one thing but the listener believes something else based solely on our body language.  Saying “I’m fine” and looking down or having your arms crossed communicates a completely different emotion.

The article goes on to talk about gestures as one way humans communicate emotions to each other.  Hand signals are a big part of gestures.  Pointing a finger at someone usually communicates anger and crossing ones arms conveys to others that you are closed off or guarded.

Another way our bodies communicate non-verbally is through our face. Faces are recognized by many scientists as being the most important communication tool that our body has. There are 44 facial muscles that convey an amalgam of emotions.  In addition, there are seven universal basic emotions (happiness, anger, disgust, fear, surprise, sadness and contempt).  These emotions can be expressed on one’s face clearly or in a more subtle manner via microexpressions. These basic emotions are also expressed on the face the same way across all people of all cultures, no matter their age, gender, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation.

The idea about universal emotions started earlier than you might think: Charles Darwin (1809 – 1882) shared his ideas about the face and emotions in a book he wrote later in life, “The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals” (1872). Darwin thought that all mammals showed emotion reliably in their faces.

There are also physiological clues that give away a person’s emotional state.  A sudden redness of a person’s face or increased breathing or heart rate inform people of the emotional state of the person they are talking to.  These changes can happen even before you see a change of emotion on a person’s face.

Former FBI agent Joe Navarro also has some helpful tips when reading a person’s nonverbal behavior in his blog on the Psychology Today website.

Next time you’re in a stressful situation or are meeting someone for the first time, think of what your body is communicating!

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