European researchers have presented a new model on how humans recognize the emotions of others.
Philosophers at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum believe humans do not deduce emotions by interpreting other people’s behavior, rather, we perceive feelings directly via pattern recognition.
The research describing the model has been published in the journal Mind & Language.
The new model suggests that every emotion is determined by a pattern of characteristic features. That is, emotions are perceived by physiological reactions, facial expressions, and gestures, a typical feeling or a cognitive assessment of the situation.
Therefore, even if an individual does not display all components of an emotion pattern — perhaps because he or she is maintaining a neutral facial expression — the other features provide sufficient context to determine the other’s state of mind.
Researchers explain that humans are able to perceive typical emotion patterns even if the clues are sparse. “Typical modes of movement and blushing indicate anger, even if the individual is able to control their facial expressions,” said Professor Albert Newen.
“Emotions are not merely feelings that are hidden inside and that become apparent only if one observes an individual’s behavior and draws conclusions from it.”
Although a person’s behavior may model their emotional state, a person’s emotional status is usually already perceived based upon the associated patterns presented by the person.
A case study:
An employee has a conversation with his manager at his place of work and worries he might be laid off.
Typical fear elements in that situation include…
- physiological reactions (e.g. palpitations, perspiration rate);
- behavioral tendencies (e.g. being petrified, flight reflex);
- forms of expression (e.g. facial expressions, gestures, posture);
- sensation of fear;
- a cognitive assessment (e.g. “It is very likely that I’m going to lose my job, but I need the money”);
- the “intentional” object at which the fear is directed (in this case the termination of contract).
The emotion pattern is in place, even if some typical features are missing — for example if the employee has trained himself to maintain a poker face, his/her appearance is one of fear.
Researchers believe this shows that even if we attempt to train ourselves to get rid of one expression of emotion, we will only partially succeed; usually, the emotional state is revealed through involuntary reactions such as gaze direction or other aspects of our behavior.