Photos of athletes in their moment of victory or defeat usually show faces contorted with intense emotion. But a new study suggests that people actually don’t use those kinds of extreme facial expressions to judge how a person is feeling.
Instead, surprisingly, people rely on body cues.
Hillel Aviezer, a psychology researcher at Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel, wanted to see how accurately people can read intense, real-world facial expressions — instead of the standardized, posed images of facial expressions that are usually used in lab tests.
What he found was that the exact same face would be interpreted as showing a positive or negative emotion, depending on which body it was on. These results are reported in the journal Science.
“I think that many people will find this very surprising,” says Lisa Feldman Barrett, a scientist at Northeastern University who studies emotions.
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