Don't read my lips! Why body language not facial expression could be the key to discovering your partner's mood
Body language provides a more accurate way of detecting mood than facial expression
As emotions reach a certain intensity the intricacies of facial expressions become lost

By
Claire Bates

PUBLISHED:

09:40 GMT, 21 January 2013

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UPDATED:

09:40 GMT, 21 January 2013

It's a situation anyone in a relationship is familiar with – you think you may have upset your other half but you can't be sure.

Now researchers say confused partners would do better to check their other half's body language rather than trying to decipher their expression.

While conventional wisdom says that the face best communicates feeling, a study from Princeton University found facial expressions could often be ambiguous. They said that people struggled to tell just from a headshot whether someone was experiencing an extreme positive or negative reaction.

Body language however turned out to be a far more reliable guide.

People rely on body language to read emotions far more than they realise, say researchers

People rely on body language to read emotions far more than they realise, say researchers

In four separate experiments the researchers asked participants
to work out from photographs if people were experiencing feelings such
as loss, victory or pain from facial expressions or body language
alone, or from both.

Participants who saw the face only had a
50-50 chance of being correct, whereas those who only saw a body or the
face and body together were far more accurate.

Study leader Professor Alexander Torodov, said: 'There's much more ambiguity in the face
than we assume there is.

'We assume that the face
conveys whatever is in the person's mind, that we can recognize their
emotions. But that's not necessarily true.'

He said that when emotions reach a certain intensity the intricacies of facial expressions become lost, much like how increasing the volume on stereo speakers can make it become distorted.

The tests, published in the journal Science, also revealed we rely on body language far more than we think.

Professor Alexander Torodov: 'There's much more ambiguity in the face than we assume there is'

Professor Alexander Torodov: 'There's much more ambiguity in the face than we assume there is'

One of the experiments paired a facial expression showing one emotion spliced with a body that was expressing another. The participants typically guessed the situation with what they gleaned from the body rather than the face.

Despite this 80 per cent of people said they would rely solely on the face when trying to work out an emotion, while 20 per cent would look at the face and body together. This misconception was labelled the 'illusory facial effect' by researchers.

'The message of this research is that there is a lot of information in body language people aren't necessarily aware of,' Prof Torodov said.

Jamin Halberstadt, a psychology professor at the University of Otago, who was not involved with the study, said: 'It really questions the primacy of the face in emotion.

'Real emotional expressions are much more ambiguous, subtle and malleable than you would think from the research.

'Any application of emotion theory that relies on or assumes that emotional expressions reside primarily in the face should be under reconsideration from this kind of study.'