In body language, the face is second only to the eyes in the amount of information revealed about a person. The first thing we look at when approaching a person is their face. Even at a distance it tells us how the person feels about us. As we close the distance to speak, we watch their face to evaluate the status of our relationship. A fleeting subtle facial expression on a friend's face can provide valuable information on the state of your immediate relationship from moment to moment. Also always working is a part of the old brain called the amygdala that appraises if every situation and person is safe.
However, you must not be fooled by the gross facial expressions that can be falsely displayed. The face is easy to change in an attempt to display any emotion one desires. Here is this woman's polite, insincere smile. Notice in her fake smile how she turns her face away. Overall, she is not facing directly and is partly hiding facial features. There are also subtle differences not evident in this picture.
Here is this woman's real smile just seconds later. Overall, her face is more direct and open. Close examination would find different muscles at work in each case. Below are some major differences between a real smile and a fake smile.
Even if the face displays a false emotion, the body posture and movements will still reveal the truth. In all cases when you are observing body language, be sure to take into account the facial expressions as well as the body posture, voice, and frequent habitual movements.
The permanent lines in the face reveal a person's past long-term history and long term personality traits. For example, 'worry lines' in the forehead indicate guess what: a person who is constantly worried. Their every expression is tainted with worry until the lines become a permanent feature of their face for all to read.
About Revealing Face Expressions
Facial expressions can change in a fraction of a second. These quickies are true expressions that leak through a forced fake expression. For example, a fake smile of greeting can change almost instantly to a not-you-again look of contempt and back to the fake smile in a fraction of a second.
Research using stop-motion video recordings have identified fleeting moments of contempt between men and women partners. Their facial expressions and words were congenial 99.9% of the time but momentary flashes only the camera caught were evident showing contempt for their partner. This contempt showed up as a very quick jerk of the buccinator face muscles that pull the lip corners back and creates a sneering look. Using such a technique, researcher and psychologist John Gottman can analyze fifteen minutes of interaction between couples and predict with 85% accuracy whether they will be divorced within six years!
Our body language cues are generally recognized by everyone unconsciously because we all have them in our DNA repertoire and we display them unconsciously when we are in each emotional state. Emotions are normal and displaying them is healthy. It is unnatural and unhealthy to hide one's emotions. That surely leads to physical illness, if not mental illness also. It is also very healthy, mentally stimulating and fun to make facial expressions consciously as you speak.
Speaking without facial expressions is all too common in some cultures. Let yourself not continue that dull practice if you have been doing so in the past. Exaggerate your facial expressions (and throw in some body movements, too) for a while and see how that affects your relationships in positive ways! It really will make you more interesting and may attract some new exciting friends! (But don't overdo it like in this picture!)
© Copyright 2005, revised 2009 by Lawrence Rodrigues, M.S., Director: EastWest Institute for Self-Understanding.
All rights reserved worldwide.