What messages are we conveying with the expression on our faces or with the twinkle in our eye. Is it a universal message known to all or is it interpreted differently by various cultures and people? Facial expressions are a major part of communication and have a profound impact on the messages we give and receive nonverbally. This paper will focus on facial expressions and the influences they have on the way we are able to understand another person’s emotions without as much as a word from them.
We are communicating with our bodies all the time whether we realize it or not. Most of the emotional meanings of our messages are given through facial expressions, body language, gestures and our appearance. People tend to believe nonverbal signs of communication more than the actual words because it is harder to mask the emotions behind them and they show through. Reading and interpreting these nonverbal cues is valuable skill. It is useful in all different types of relationships every day.
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Different cultures focus their attention on various parts of the face making this form on nonverbal communication different among cultures. In America we look at the face in its entirety as opposed to Easterners who concentrate more on just the eyes. This is shown through emoticons as well as in person. (“Facial expressions,”)When Westerners email or send a text message the emoticon s show a mouth smiling or frowning. Easterner’s emoticons have bigger eyes and the mouth is usually a straight across line. Westerner’s emoticons eyes are usually represented by dots. The differences in these show where different cultures focus their attention on and what they find most important.
Often, people tend to mimic the facial expression of the person who is talking to them. It is said that this is an unconscious act so people don’t always know when they are doing it. Some researchers have said it is a behavior we learn, for that reason it is different among cultures. These expressions are said to be so powerful that they can influence an emotional experience without the perceiver actually going through the experience. (“Emotional empathy and,” 2008). These influential gestures have the ability to make people empathize with one another. This made me think of the saying smile, it’s contagious. I have noticed if I’m having a bad day and a random stranger smile at me I return the smile and sometime that puts me in a better mood. Even if my mood it just changes a little, it is still a strong tool. I believe facial expressions are a very powerful form of communication. I believe if we utilize them correctly they can be very persuasive and help us in our day to day lives.
It has been proven that children with disabilities have a harder time understanding people socially. Studies show that people with autism and mental retardation have a different way of interpreting facial expressions. Instead of focusing on the entire face as a whole, people with autism look at the lower part of the face focusing their gaze mostly on the mouth. (Gross, 2007). When reading someone’s facial expressions we look at a number of things including eyes, mouth, eye brows and many other muscles of the face. By looking into someone’s eyes we can tell if they are lying, paying attention to us or if they are avoiding something. An autistic person generally avoids eye contact or has very little of it. They look at other people as little as possible. (Klin,Lin,Gorrindo,Ramsey,Jones, 2009). This is the main reason they do not interpret facial expressions as well as others. The lack of focus on the eyes has a major impact on this. They also do not mirror the expressions which is how you learn to read and interpret them starting at a young age.
There are many different factors that we take into consideration when interpreting facial expressions. Place and time is a main one. If a person has just woken up we may see that on their face and interpret it as they are tired when in fact they are well rested and just waking up. Another factor is if alcohol has been added in the mix. In one study, after the participants were given alcohol, they had a harder time distinguishing between if the picture of the male was angry or disgusted. Because of the stereotypical belief that males are more aggressive their facial expression was perceived as this. The same study showed that alcohol did not affect the ability to perceive happy emotions. (Attwood,Ataya,Benton,Penton-Voak,Munafo, 2009). Positive emotions are easier to read and take less effort to distinguish. They are generally the same among different ages and cultures.
Another factor that determines whether we accept or reject a facial expression is the current mood we are in. If we are happy we are more positive and more accepting or willing to believe the expression as genuine. If we are in a bad mood there is a better chance of us assuming that the person is controlling their expression and it isn’t truly how they feel. (Forgas, East, 2008) We tend to analyze negative expressions more. If we are listening to someone talk and watching their expressions while we are angry or unhappy we are usually showing this on our face. If we are not mirroring the expressions of the person talking ,we usually don’t fully understand or really believe what they are saying. We are a lot more skeptical of others while in a bad mood ,almost as if we are threatening situation. I think that is because they can lead to a more negative experience. Positive emotions are easier to read and understand. If we feel better about ourselves and our mood, we feel better about other people and are able to trust that they are being genuine.
We are expressing and perceiving many different messages through nonverbal communication and our bodies. Our facial expressions have a major impact on this part of communication and can be the deciding factor on if what we are saying is believed by the other person. This very powerful nonverbal form of communication can be used as a persuasive tool to help us get what we want or help a perceiver emphasize with how we feel. It can also help a person lie to someone .If one learns to control their expressions they can be very deceitful. Because people with disabilities view the face in parts instead of a whole they do not get the full effect of the expressions and they are not able to grasp the meaning of it. There are other things factors that cloud our ability to interpret facial expressions such as stereotyping and alcohol. When added together it is easier to misread the signs we can usually interpret without a problem . This is usually only true when referring to males.
I believe that nonverbal communication is a very important type of communication. Because facial expressions are such a major part of this, I think it is important to learn and understand them. They show how a person feels without them saying it. If the person interpreting the message is in a good mood they will most likely believe the person sending the message is being genuine. If you can learn to correctly use and interpret these important tools, than you will have outstanding communication skills needed for your work and personal life.
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