Friends of the Nonverbal Communication Blog, this week we present the paper  “Shall I Show My Emotions? The Effects of Facial Expressions in the Ultimatum Game” by Ferracci, S.; Giuliani, F.; Brancucci, A. and Pietroni, D. (2021), in which authors carry out two experiments to know how the expression of some emotions affect the most tense moments in a negotiation. 

In recent years it has been shown that emotions play an essential and central role in the communication of intentions and desires.

Emotions and the information associated with them can be transmitted through facial expressions during specific social interactions, where their inference can influence decision-making processes, such as negotiations.

The ultimatum game has a lot to do with negotiations. It was developed forty years ago as a representation of the reality of negotiations. In this game, a player proposes how to allocate a certain amount of money between himself and another player. This second player can accept the proposal, in which case one will receive the decided amount, or he can reject it, causing neither player to receive any money.

According to classical economics, the respondent has to accept any offer greater than 0, since anything is better than nothing. However, it has been observed that participants tend to reject offers that are approximately below 30% of the total, preferring not to win anything rather than accept an unequal distribution of money. Therefore, in front of classical economic theory, human behavior and its intolerance to inequality appear.

From this idea, the question arises as to how the expression of human emotions influenced the negotiations, a topic that has been studied previously.

In some of these earlier articles, it appears that offers made with a smiling face were accepted more often than those made with a neutral facial expression. Also, there used to be lower acceptance rates if the offers were made by a person with an angry facial expression.

The responder’s behavior, on the other hand, might be more driven by the sense of perceived fairness and fairness that we discussed earlier.

For studies that had the participant assume the role of the proposer, Van Dijk studied the effects of responder joy and anger on the proposer’s offers. He found that the respondent’s anger led the proposer to make better offers.

These studies indicate that proponents must be very careful in capturing the emotional state of the respondent, as they can then use the information obtained to modulate their subsequent responses.

The role of anger is also interesting, with controversial results. For one thing, studies show that when the responder reacts in anger, the proponent makes more concessions. But on the other hand, there are studies that claim the opposite.

Authors decide to explore this and other questions in two experiments. 113 people participated in the first of them. The authors selected images of faces that were manipulated to offer four expressions: happy, neutral, angry and disgusted. The participants, in this case, were the ones who might answer whether or not they accepted the offer.

In the second experiment, all participants were assigned the opposite role, that of proposer. 134 subjects participated and the methodology and procedure were the same.

The results showed that, in experiment one, for the respondent the decision is strongly driven by fairness in supply, as the authors expected.

Emotions also had an effect: neutral emotion and happiness led to higher rates of acceptance compared to anger and disgust.

Some theories have attempted to explain irrational behaviors in equity-related decision-making, such as “inequality aversion”, which confirms individuals’ preferences for fair outcomes.

On the other hand, in experiment two, the participants, in the role of the proponents, modulated their offers based on the expressions they saw on the faces of the responders.

Specifically, anger and disgust had no differential effects and were perceived as equally negative. More generous offers were made to those with neutral expressions, and even more generous ones to those with happy facial expressions.

So what about the anger and previous studies with conflicting ideas? A study carried out by Steinel and colleagues proposes the idea that anger would have one effect or another depending on where it is projected.

When the emotion is directed to the offer, it can be understood as a strategy to know the limits of the opponent and, therefore, can lead to greater concessions.

Conversely, if the emotion is directed at the person, it can lead to negative outcomes, indicating poor cooperation.

Authors point out the need for further research, especially to understand the effects of anger and disgust in depth, and to improve these experiments, for example, with real and higher incentives.

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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