This Simple Trick Will Help You Read People's Emotions More Accurately
It seems intuitive that the best way to interpret how others are feeling would be to both see and hear how they’re behaving. However, a new study suggests that’s dead wrong.
Want to really understand how other people are feeling? Close your eyes and listen.
That’s the takeaway of a new study published in American Psychologist that explored the empathic accuracy of various forms of communication. The results are some of the first to demonstrate that the primary way we convey emotions may be through the voice – not facial expressions or body language, as previously thought.
“Humans are actually remarkably good at using many of their senses for conveying emotions, but emotion research historically is focused almost exclusively on the facial expressions,” said Michael Kraus, a social psychologist at Yale University and author of the study, to The Guardian.
The paper detailed several experiments. In the first, researchers asked online participants to view videos showing a group of friends teasing each other about a nickname. Participants were presented the scene in one of three ways – audio only, audio and video, and video only – and were then asked to interpret what the friends were feeling by rating emotions like amusement, embarrassment, or happiness on a scale of 0 to 8. Surprisingly, those who only heard the interaction – but didn’t watch the video – were best able to interpret the emotions of the scene.
Another study involved undergraduate students gathering together in a room to discuss their favorite TV shows, movies, food and beverages. One group had the conversation in a lighted room, the other in a darkened room. Similar to the first experiment, people who were visually impaired in the darkened room more accurately interpreted the emotions of others.
Finally, the researchers took audio from the first experiment in which friends were teasing each other and had participants listen to one of two versions: the actual dialog from the friends, or a computerized voice reading the exact same words. Although you might expect to glean a similar amount of emotional information from the words alone, participants who interpreted the scene by listening to the digital voice fared far worse at interpreting emotions.
“The difference between emotional information in voice-only communication by a computer versus a human voice was the largest across all studies,” Kraus said to Yale Insights. “It’s really how you speak—not just what you say—that matters for conveying emotion.”
It seems intuitive that more information – both audio and visual – would better equip you to read the minds of other people, but the opposite seems true.
One explanation has to do with the limits of our cognitive power. When we’re taking in complex audio and visual input, it takes our brains more effort to process information. It’s similar to how a computer slows down when you have a bunch of different programs running simultaneously. Visual information is particularly costly to process, as Art Markman notes for Psychology Today:
Quite a bit of the brain is taken up with understanding what is going on in our sensory world. For example, if you clasp your hands behind your head, most of the area taken up by your hands reflects the amount of the brain that is devoted to making sense of the information coming in through your eyes.
These same brain regions are also responsible for recalling visual memory. And that could explain why people tend to shut their eyes when trying to recall details, or solve complex tasks in general. A 2011 paper published in the journal Memory & Cognition illustrates this idea quite nicely.
For the study, participants were instructed to watch a bit of a TV show, and later were asked to recall details about what occurred in the episode. The researchers separated participants into four groups, asking each to recall the show while they either: stared at a blank computer screen, closed their eyes, watched a computer screen as it randomly displayed nonsense images, or stared at a blank computer screen while they heard spoken words in a strange language.
Like the recent study, the groups that had received the least visual information – that is, they closed their eyes or stared at a blank computer screen – performed best. Interestingly, the group that stared at the screen displaying weird images fared worst at recalling visual details, while the group that heard random bits of a strange language did worst at recalling audio details from the show.
The other possible explanation has darker implications. People have a natural tendency to disguise their emotions, whether they’re doing something as benign as forcing a smile when you’re feeling down at work or something as malicious trying to manipulate someone into a shady business deal. Because our voices seem to be the primary way we communicate our emotions, the addition of visual cues like body language and facial expressions adds a whole toolset people can use to disguise their true emotions – a deliberately thoughtful tilt of the head, a raise of the eyebrows, or any of those body language hacks written up in countless articles ever since that one TED talk.
Either way, the researchers suggest people pay more attention to what others are saying and how they’re saying it.
“There’s an opportunity here to boost your listening skills to work more effectively across cultures and demographic characteristics,” Kraus said. “Understanding other people’s intentions is foundational to success in the global and diverse business environment that characterizes both the present and the future.”
The new version's battery has a shorter range and a price $4,000 lower than the previous starting price.
- Tesla's new version of the Model 3 costs $45,000 and can travel 260 miles on one charge.
- The Model 3 is the best-selling luxury car in the U.S.
- Tesla still has yet to introduce a fully self-driving car, even though it once offered the capability as an option to be installed at a future date.
A mind-bending paradox questions the nature of reality.
- Boltzmann Brains are hypothetical disembodied entities with self-awareness.
- It may be more likely for a Boltzmann Brain to come into existence than the whole Universe.
- The idea highlights a paradox in thermodynamics.
What makes an excellent educator?
- When it comes to educating, says Dr. Elizabeth Alexander, a brave failure is preferable to timid success.
- Fostering an environment where one isn't afraid to fail is tantamount to learning.
- Human beings are complicated and flawed. Working with those complications and flaws leads to true knowledge.
Drinking home alone in your underwear just might be what you need to be as relaxed as the Finnish.
- Päntsdrunk is the latest trend to come out of Northern Europe and it involves drinking alone at home.
- Finnish writer Miska Rantanen outlines the philosophy in his newest book titled: Pantsdrunk: Kalsarikanni: The Finnish Path to Relaxation.
- Kalsarikänni is a word in Finnish that literally means "drinking at home and alone in your underwear."
It's hard to imagine such a number. But these images will help you try.
The Mega Millions lottery just passed $1 billion for tonight's drawing.
What does that even look like, when represented by various currencies?
It takes just 6 numbers to win. You can only, however, purchase tickets up until 10:45 ET tonight.
We all know sleeping with your ex is a bad idea, or is it?
- In the first study of its kind, researchers have found sex with an ex didn't prevent people from getting over their relationship.
- Instead of feeling worse about their breakup after a hookup, the new singles who attempted sexual contact with their ex reported feeling better afterwards.
- The findings suggest that not every piece of relationship advice is to be taken at face value.
"It's about having employees that are empowered."
Denmark may be the birthplace of the Lego tower, but its workplace hierarchy is the flattest in the world.
According to the World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Report 2018, the nation tops an index measuring "willingness to delegate authority" at work, beating 139 other countries.
Want a happy, satisfying relationship? Psychologists say the best way is to learn to take a joke.
- New research looks at how partners' attitudes toward humor affects the overall quality of a relationship.
- Out of the three basic types of people, people who love to be laughed at made for better partners.
- Fine-tuning your sense of humor might be the secret to a healthy, happy, and committed relationship.
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.