Next Time You Want To Fool Someone

Bite your pen.

From the British Psychological Society research digest:

Have you ever noticed how, when two people are talking, they seem to mimic
each other’s facial expressions?

Some psychologists say this is simply a case of emotions being contagious.
However, others go further, arguing this mimicry plays a functional role;
that by copying someone else’s facial expression it helps us to better
understand how they are feeling.

Now Lindsay Oberman and colleagues have tested the idea that if mimicry
really does play a functional role, then disrupting our ability to mimic
should interfere with our recognition of other people’s facial expressions.

And that’s exactly what they found when twelve students were asked to
categorise morphed photographs of people’s faces showing varying degrees of
happiness, sadness, fear or disgust.

To disrupt their ability to mimic, the students clenched a pen between their
teeth, an act that exercises many of the muscles needed to perform facial
expressions. This significantly impaired the students’ ability to correctly
identify happiness, and to some extent also their ability to identify
disgust. The identification of sadness and fear was unaffected, perhaps
because these emotions are expressed less through the facial musculature and
more through body posture and tone of voice. By contrast a happy expression
is known to involve many facial muscles.

A control condition in which the students held a pen lightly between their
lips (no use of face muscles) did not interfere with recognition of facial
expression. Neither did chewing gum, which involves the facial muscles only

“Our findings are consistent with the proposal that people’s ability to
understand emotions in others involves simulating their states,” the
researchers said.

For more click here.

Joe Donatelli
Joe Donatelli is a writer in Los Angeles

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