Friends of the Nonverbal Communication Blog, this week we present the paper “Does attention to one’s own emotion relate to the emotional interpretation of other people’s faces?”, by Munin, S. and Beer, J. S. (2022), in which authors carry out a couple of studies to know whether, as it seems logical, a positive association exists between giving attention to our own emotions and correctly inferring other’s emotions judging by their facial expressions.

Because of the interest in nonverbal communication in recent years, some experts have asked an apparently logical question: does people’s tendency to pay attention to their own emotions predict their ability to correctly perceive the emotions of others? 

Research has shown that, from childhood through adulthood, people tend to watch the expressions on the faces of others for clues about how they may be feeling, but there are few studies that focus on whether a relationship as described above exists. 

Although no research has directly examined attention to one’s own emotions in relation to the perception of others’, it is possible to extrapolate hypotheses from previous research on individual differences in attention to emotions and how this is associated with categorization, also of emotions. 

One of these is the possibility that individuals with greater attention to emotion have a greater ability to differentiate perceived facial expressions in others and may indicate the intensity or authenticity of those expressions. This is the idea we mentioned above, since it is the one that comes to mind when we think about the subject, but is it true?

What we know is that people with greater attention to emotions more often control their own emotions, are more likely to be driven by them, and also have a greater tendency to use their moods as a basis for making decisions. 

However, it is not so simple when it comes to other people’s emotions, a topic on which more research is needed. 

With the existing articles and publications, some hypotheses can be developed. First, it appears that individuals who pay more attention to emotions would show a greater ability to differentiate cues that report emotional intensity and authenticity. Second, they also appear to be able to more accurately label another person’s emotions. Finally, there is other research claiming that these people may overestimate the authenticity of the emotions they see in the faces of others. 

To clarify these issues, the authors decided to conduct two studies. The first study examined whether individual differences in attention to emotions are significantly related to perceptions of the intensity and authenticity of emotions in other people. 

A total of 256 people participated. In the experiment, they viewed 48 images of randomly presented facial expressions with the emotions of anger, happiness or sadness, and rated their emotional intensity. On the other hand, they saw 10 randomly presented pictures of smiles, 5 of them were “Duchenne smiles”, and subjects had to rate the authenticity of all of them. 

The second study was very similar to the first one. It had 254 participants, who completed an online survey with emotional intensity tasks, related tests, demographic questions, among others. 

The observed results were not consistent with the hypotheses suggested by previous research. In study 1, it was found that the ability to pay attention to one’s own emotions did not significantly moderate the ability to perceive others’ emotional intensity or authenticity.

Furthermore, perceptions of emotions from other people’s faces are not always accurate, and perceivers often make biased interpretations. 

Future research may investigate situations in which the facial behavior of others is very brief, or also take into account these biases that may appear when interpreting facial expressions and identifying them. 

As future research broadens its focus and pays attention to how individual differences in attention to emotion may shape the interpretation of facial movements, it may also consider new hypotheses and, with them, lead, in turn, to other relevant and important research. 

If you want to know more about nonverbal behavior and how it influences our personal relationships, visit our Nonverbal Communication Certificate, a 100% online program certificated by the Heritage University (Washington) with special discounts for readers of the Nonverbal Communication Blog.



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