Facial Expressions & Cooperation


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According to a recent study from Marshall School of Business and USC faculty, an indifferent leadership attitude at work is not as effective as some bosses think.

It’s important to have control over your emotions in a professional setting. For the most part, we can all agree that temper tantrums hardly call for respect and admiration, but trying to control your emotions as a whole is also not very effective in receiving cooperation and understanding in the work place.

Peter Carnevale, professor of management and organization at USC’s Marshall School of Business suggests, “[one] should be careful about managing his or her emotions because the person across the table is making inferences based on facial expressions. For example, a smile at the wrong time can discourage cooperation.”

Medical Xpress reports on the study entitled “Reading People’s Minds from Emotion Expressions in Interdependent Decision Making,” which was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

The study illustrates the intricate role emotion plays in business interactions such as what you show on your face is as important as what you say in a negotiation and what you do with your negotiation offers.

Researchers paired individuals with computer-generated images of an opposing negotiator in five related experiments. Each featured a two-person task in which the payoffs for each player depended on the simultaneous choice of both players. If both players invested (i.e.cooperated) both earned money. If neither player invested, neither earned money. And, if one player invested and the other player did not, the non-investor outperformed the investor by taking advantage of the investment without putting in any effort or money. This task represents a classic problem in interdependence and economic decision-making.

In one experiment, the image of the other player either smiled, expressing pleasure after cooperation, or frowned, signaling regret after exploitation. In other cases, it expressed pleasure after exploitation and regret after cooperation.

If you come to an agreement in a negotiation and you are really happy, it may not be a good idea to show how happy you are because it might lead the other person to think that you did better than they did, said Carnevale. But in other circumstances, showing strong emotion may be the ticket to success.

The study’s findings were that people cooperated significantly more with a computer counterpart that smiled when cooperating and expressing sorrow after exploiting the participant. In other words, the study results indicate that context can determine the meaning ascribed to a counterpart’s emotional expression and subsequent reactions.

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