Facial expressions: we often read them wrong and then make huge mistakes

Both emotions and facial expressions are ancient instincts.

Human language and cognition have grown well-beyond ancient instincts. Grown beyond but also still affected by.

We have become more complex.

Today, we not only read instincts, we also read instincts into other people’s cognition through what they say, how they say it, how it sounds, how their faces move.

Which micro-expression is the right one?

The truth is we don’t know. Our readings of facial expressions in real-time, real-world situations are often wrong, often tragically.

Our cognition has advanced beyond our instincts but generally speaking it has not advanced far enough for us to generally recognize this fact.

Cultures and social groups deal with the ambiguity of facial expressions by being formal, wearing masks, emphasizing “face” or “saving face,” promoting respect or strong egos that can sell themselves through assertion of meaning, Botox, makeup, boobs, etc.

I think it is arguable that many/most/all people take on and use religion or philosophy in order to provide themselves with a generalizable set of emotions and facial expressions that can be employed in many situations. In this we can see how the architecture of our cognition (our philosophy/religion) is connected to our emotions and facial expressions.

Obviously, our reading of other people’s faces and emotions is not always wrong. If it were we wouldn’t do it at all. But our readings are wrong often enough that tragic mistakes are frequently made.

It is a pity that these truths are not more widely recognized. Browse almost any psychological forum and you will find many comments concerning the anguish people feel at having a condition that is widely misunderstood or misread.

At least they know what is going on.

This morning I saw this article: NEVER trust a person’s face: Scientists say it is ‘completely baloney’ that you can read people’s emotions from their expressions.

And that led me to search for this paper: Emotional Expressions Reconsidered: Challenges to Inferring Emotion From Human Facial Movements.

I am sure most, if not all, psychologists recognize the basic problem of our poor abilities at reading emotions, tone of voice, gesture, and even what we mean at all when we speak and act.

Does anyone know what to do about it?

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