Thursday, January 28, 2010

Human Faces, Emotions, and Socialization (Caution! Geeky Content!)

"Facial Expression of Emotion as a Means of Socialization"
David R. Heise, Department of Sociology, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana, Electronic Social Psychology (1985)

"Recent research indicates that (1) the human face is a highly sophisticated signaling system for communicating affect, and (2) affect plays a key role in the experience of social organization and in the day-by-day production of culture. This essay suggests that emotional displays—on the face especially—are a primary means of socialization, allowing a neophyte to attain knowledge of the sociocultural system rapidly and efficiently.

"An intriguing pattern of results emerged from a study of college roomrnates by Melvin Manis several decades ago (1955). Manis had friends and non-friends (i.e., high and low sociometric choices) rate themselves and each other on 24 bipolar semantic differential scales representing eight trait dimensions...."

Bottom line?

People all over the world use their faces the same way to express a few basic emotions, like fear, surprise, anger, disgust, or happiness. And, science fiction writers and serious thinkers of the early and mid 20th century were wrong about at least one thing: humanity is not evolving away from emotionality.

I'm not all that surprised. If that were the way things went, lizards would be more 'emotional' than we are. Think about it: we've got a whole lot more circuits to be emotional with.

"Trust Your Feelings, Luke" and Thinking Straight

Someone quipped that the famous Star Wars line, "trust your feelings, Luke," was the same as saying "be stupid, Luke." There's something to that.

The 'strong silent type' of man, who apparently has the emotional range of a stuffed frog, may exist: but that's not me. I love to talk - and write. And, I've been told, don't hide what I'm feeling. At all.

I don't know where the idea that being emotional was a 'primitive' characteristic came from. I've run into the notion in some 19th century stories: the wildly emotional native savage contrasted with the starched Englishman.

Anyway, it looks researchers - some of them - are coming to grips with the fact that humans are emotional creatures. And, that that's okay.

Another excerpt from that paper, and I'll end this post.

"...Among the shattered myths are that emotionality is primitive or simplistic, that facial expressions are purely idiosyncratic, and that humans are evolving away from expressivity. Instead, extensive programs of research have yielded the following facts.

"The face is our emotional signaling system. Language and talking transmit facts and schemes, and sometimes feelings, too. But language does not match the face's capacity for communicating emotions. The face is our primary channel for communicating feelings.

"Our facial expressions are uniquely human. We communicate more with our faces than any other creature. Our vocabulary of facial expressions is too large for most animals to master. Our facial musculature—offering the potential for more than a thousand appearances —is the most developed of any species, and the human face conveys messages more complex than animal faces.

"Basic emotional expressions are the same for everyone. Tribesmen in Borneo can read your emotional expressions, and you would understand theirs. People in different cultures vary in what events cause particular emotions, in how emotions are masked in specific situations, and in the extra facial expressions that are added on top of the basic emotion repertory. But there is a common visual code for expressing feelings that cuts across differences of sex, age, race, or origin. This visual system for signaling our feelings to others is universal...."

Related posts, about emotions and being human:

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