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06-16-2024

People with many facial expressions seem more social and likeable

Have you ever wondered why some people just seem to have that “it” factor? They’re charismatic, likeable, and seem to effortlessly navigate social situations. While personality and charm certainly play a role, new research suggests that our facial expressions – and how we use them – may be a bigger factor than we realize.

Advantage of facial expressions

A recent study conducted by Nottingham Trent University (NTU) delved into the relationship between facial expressiveness and social success, analyzing a vast dataset of over 1,500 natural conversations.

The research revealed a significant correlation between individuals who readily display their emotions through facial expressions and their perceived likability, as well as their ability to effectively achieve their social objectives.

This finding suggests that the capacity to communicate emotions openly and genuinely through facial cues plays a crucial role in fostering positive social interactions and building stronger interpersonal connections.

“Our evidence shows that facial expressivity is related to positive social outcomes,” explained Dr. Eithne Kavanagh, lead author of the study. “It suggests that more expressive people are more successful at attracting social partners and in building relationships. It also could be important in conflict resolution.”

Recording reactions

The researchers employed a multi-faceted approach to conduct the study. First, they engaged in semi-structured video calls with 52 participants, recording their natural reactions and expressions during various scenarios, including humor, embarrassment, and even conflict.

To further test the participants’ ability to control their facial expressions, the researchers asked them to maintain a neutral face while their partner tried to elicit a reaction.

The same individuals later recorded short video clips, attempting to convey specific social goals through their facial expressions, such as appearing friendly or disagreeing without causing offense.

The research team then analyzed over 170 video clips, asking independent raters to assess the emotions and expressions conveyed in each clip. To quantify facial expressivity, they used the Facial Action Coding System (FACS), a method of measuring facial muscle activity.

Real-world conversations

The researchers took their investigation a step further. They analyzed unscripted video conversations between 1,456 strangers, where conversation partners rated how much they liked each other.

Once again, the results were clear: expressive participants were more likeable, both to their conversation partners and to independent raters. These expressive individuals were also found to be easier to read and more adept at adapting their facial behavior to achieve their social goals.

Unspoken language of facial expressions

But why does facial expression matter so much? According to Professor Bridget Waller, who led the NTU research project, it all boils down to evolution.

“This research is important in evolutionary terms as it may explain why humans have developed more complex facial expression than any other species – it helps us to create stronger bonds and better navigate the social world,” noted Waller.

Our faces show how we feel, even when we don’t say it out loud. A raised eyebrow can mean we doubt something, a smile shows warmth, and a frown shows worry. These little signs help us understand what others are thinking and feeling.

By understanding these signs, we can build trust and get to know each other better. Our faces are a powerful way to communicate without using words.

Conflict resolution

In a particularly noteworthy segment of the study, participants were presented with a conflict scenario involving an unsatisfactory offer regarding their compensation for participating in the research.

Interestingly, the individuals who displayed a combination of agreeableness and facial expressiveness during the negotiation process were more likely to achieve a favorable resolution.

This observation indicates that the ability to convey emotions and intentions through facial expressions, coupled with a willingness to cooperate, can significantly contribute to conflict resolution and consensus-building.

Beyond likeability: The power of expression

So, what does all of this mean for us? It means that our faces are more than just a collection of features; they’re a powerful communication tool that can influence how others perceive us and how successful we are in our social interactions.

While some people may be naturally more expressive than others, the good news is that facial expressiveness is a skill that can be developed and honed. By paying attention to our own facial cues and practicing expressing ourselves more openly, we can unlock a wealth of social benefits.

In a world that often values stoicism and emotional restraint, it’s time to embrace the power of our faces. Let your emotions shine through, connect with others on a deeper level, and watch as your social interactions flourish.

The study is published in the journal Scientific Reports.

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