Researchers have found that people more accurately understand mood when they examine body language, rather than facial expressions. “When people rated a whole image, it was clear to them – they saw winners and losers,” said Hillel Aviezer, now an assistant professor of psychology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “When you see the faces alone, it is really confusing.”
Aviezer was a postdoctoral student at Princeton University and a co-author of a paper on the subject that was presented to the Journal of Science recently. His research was aimed at how accurately the average person is able to gauge mood from facial expressions and body language in others.
45 undergrad students were drafted in for the tests, during which one group were shown photographs of tennis players’ full body and another of faces only. A third group were shown only body shots. In all cases the images were chosen to project a series of emotions such as anger, triumph, frustration and joy. The students were then asked to identify the emotions.
The results showed that those groups who studied the full body and body-only images were able to more accurately identify the subject's emotional state, whereas those undergrads who saw only the facial images were only right 50 percent of the time.
How poker players experienced in identifying and acting on ‘tells' would fare in such a test would make a truly interesting research project.
Interestingly, those students who had access to the full body and face shots did not realise that they had made their assessment based on the whole image. 53 percent of them believed the face part of the image had enabled them to gauge the mood.
In another experiment, images that gave conflicting signals were used, such as an angry body but a happy face. In these cases, the students studying the images tended to base their assessment on the body posture, not the face.