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The Emotional Power of Facial Expressions

Stashed in: Emotion, Leadership, Body Language

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John: According to the work of Dr. Paul Ekman and many other leading researchers in the field of emotions, there are 7 Universal Emotions: Surprise, Anger, Fear, Sadness, Joy, Disgust and Contempt. (There are far more emotions than these 7, however these 7 have been confirmed by Ekman’s research to be the only ones that are universally recognized.) What makes them recognizable is, each emotion has its own set of muscle groups or muscle patterns unique to that emotion.

When an audience watches a talented actor, they pick up both the overt and subtle muscle changes in the actor’s face, as well as changes in the body and the voice. If the muscle changes they see are associated with one or more of the universal emotions, the audience, whether knowing of these emotions, consciously or not, senses them. If these changes fit the context of the movie, meaning the situation the character is in or the characters’ history, they make sense to the viewer and they continue to watch with ease. However, if they are not contextually fitting or distracting, the viewer begins to question the actor’s skill level or character consistency.

The same conditions also apply to business communication. During a video conference, a participant’s face is usually the center of attention and as a result it is under sharp scrutiny. The person viewing may not consciously pick up the subtle changes in somone’s face, however more often than not they are influenced by them. That’s because our eyes are usually taking in more information than we are aware of, and we are responding to this input. For the actor or the business professional, understanding emotions and what they feel and look like on your face can open the door to greater personal and professional results, more engaging interactions, and successful collaborations with others.

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