Psychology: Reading the emotional state of others by the tip of their nose? It works – and works pretty well

Sometimes 1000 words don't reveal as much as a look at the other person's face.

Psychology: Reading the emotional state of others by the tip of their nose? It works – and works pretty well

Sometimes 1000 words don't reveal as much as a look at the other person's face. An arched brow, wide-open eyes, drooping corners of the mouth. Skepticism. Surprise. Grief. Whole worlds of emotions can be read from faces. When reading the emotions of others, we usually concentrate on the expressiveness of the eyes and the movements of the mouth and neglect another dominant facial feature, the nose. A mistake. Giessen perception researchers have now discovered, quite by chance, that moods can also be read at their peak.

They exist, these people with the so-called poker face, which presents itself like a blank sheet of paper. Nothing, or hardly anything, can be seen in these faces. No joy, no pain, no disgust – nothing. Assessing the person involved is correspondingly difficult. But these are exceptional cases. Because faces actually tell us a lot about their owners. At least that's what we believe. Based on them, we infer character traits and emotional states and are guided by certain perceptual impressions.

The nose has hardly played a role so far. As the research team describes in the article published in the journal "iPerception", just looking at them can be enough to evaluate the expressions and characteristics shown. This is the result of a small online experiment in which 114 people took part. The participants first rated isolated nose, eye and mouth regions of 30 faces, then rated the faces as a whole. It was shown that the ratings of the noses showed considerable agreement with the ratings of the entire faces - especially with regard to their emotional state, excitement and attractiveness.

“We were surprised to see how well it worked,” said Dr. Ben de Haas, who supervised the project. It is known that people can read emotional expressions from their eyes and mouth. “We didn’t expect that this would also work with the nasal region,” says the experimental psychologist. The cheek lifters, which frame the nose and play a major role in facial expressions, probably contribute to this. In addition, we might wrinkle or wrinkle our nose ourselves. "Our results suggest that people also use such information to 'read' other people's faces," says de Haas. Next, the researchers want to try to better understand such “nose codes”.

The fact that psychologists figured it out at all is thanks to chance and a completely different study. “The whole thing was a funny accident,” explains Maximilian Broda, lead author of the study and doctoral student. Together with his doctoral supervisor, he cut portraits for another study. They noticed that the isolated nasal region appeared surprisingly expressive. The researchers investigated this observation and confirmed it. They conclude that nasal regions convey a surprising level of information about their wearers.

Microexpressions can also provide information about the other person. These are tiny changes in facial expressions that are only noticeable for a fraction of a second. Emotions are generated in the limbic system. Since this part of the brain is not subject to consciousness, we usually don't notice anything about it. The facial muscles, on the other hand, react directly to changes in the limbic system. In order to correctly interpret these short-term facial expressions, you have to know the other person's face in its normal state, i.e. the zero line.

Source: study, press release

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