The complexity of human emotions

PhysiognomyWhen I was publisher of a city newsweekly, we hosted a regular editorial board meeting with political candidates.

I listened intently during these sessions, so I could ask good questions and tease out a little truth from among the sound bites and scripted responses.

On one such occasion, incumbent DA candidate Lynne Abraham paused midway through her speech, looked at me and said, “Paul, are you okay? You look really concerned.”

Caught by surprise, I said something like, “Oh, no! I’m fine. I’m just concentrating on what you’re saying.” That was the truth. The other truth is, when I’m focused hard on something, I actually look quite angry. I know this because I mimicked my facial expression in the mirror later that day, just to see for myself.

It was eye opening. What I was thinking, and what I was showing the world were indeed distinctly different messages.

It probably comes as no surprise that humans have, by far, the most expressive faces on the planet. And the face we show often expresses deep felt and complex emotions, which in other animals are hard to detect.

No other species has evolved the intricate web of facial nerves (all connected to the thinking and feeling pathways in the brain) that we have, nor the subtlety of some 52 separate facial muscles whose emergence over the eons has accompanied the human rise to our current dominance over many aspects of life on this planet.

A study at the University of Portsmouth Business School, UK endeavored to “add to our knowledge about the contribution of facial expression to the perception of leadership. The results indicate that the participants used all available information, including facial appearance, expression, context of communication, appropriateness, and authenticity of expression to form complex prototypes. When the facial expressions in the studies matched the participants’ prototypes, first impressions of leadership were higher. Therefore, understanding what is inside the perceiver’s mind is significant for understanding leadership perceptions. The study recommended that leaders be aware of the influence their facial expressions have on their followers’ perception.”

Leaders need to be self-aware of their non-verbal communication through facial expressions. And, I’d add that there should be solid alignment between our actions and the emotions we exhibit while those actions are taking place.