August 11, 2007

Are You Good At Reading Faces?


Do I look like I'm bluffing, bee-atch? 


Can you correctly identify emotions if they only briefly flicker across the face?  How good do you think you are?

Try the test. 

Was a certain emotion harder or easier for you?  Did it seem like some of the faces flickered faster than others?  It may not have anything to do with the emotion.  It might be the test.

Did you notice how some emotions flicker across the screen faster than others? (They don't, really.)  This might lead you to conclude that you are not as good at perceiving certain emotions.  But that might not be the case.

The problem with the test is that certain expressions in this test lateralize to one side of the face-- the expression is mostly visible on one side.  (See contempt 4 and 8.)  Depending on which emotion is displayed, and which side of the brain is dominant in you, reading one side of the face may be easier or harder for you.

For example, contempt goes to the boy's (4) left face, but girl's (8) right.  It might have been easier (or harder) for you to perceive if it went to a given side.

To show this, get a mirror, place it perpendicularly on the screen on the z-axis (out), facing the side of the expression.  Then, look into the mirror (not the screen) and see if the expression is easier or harder.  If it is, the problem for you is lateralization, not expression reading.

As a rule of thumb, anger and contempt are naturally (i.e spontaneously) expressed on the left face of right handed people. 

As an aside, I wonder if people who are "face blind" (can't read faces) aren't a) majority left handed; b) have the most difficulty reading right handed people's expressions, especially anger.  Can they tell when a dog is happy or sad? (Considerably more symmetric in facial expression, don't ask me why.)

As an interesting experiment, photograph yourself making the various emotions.  Then, video yourself (and I don't know how you'd do this) spontaneously making the expressions, for real (have a friend bring you a naked chick, a bag of maggots, your rival, Sandra Oh, etc) and compare.  How does your fake differ from your natural?  Look carefully.  What part of your face did you "forget" to fake?

Liars are easy to spot, because they are faking their expressions.  Pathological liars, however, are much more difficult, because they aren't really faking.