Faces Tell All, the title of my book, is, obviously, an exaggeration—literary license often employed in works of fiction to make a point. Truth is, faces do tell a lot—if not everything—about us; but what about non-facial elements of body language?
Examples of body language: Stature, as in height (tall, short, medium) or build (average, under or overweight or development), posture and body proxemics (straight or slouching, leaning forward or back, tense or relaxed, confident or fearful, friendly, threatening or retreating), and gestures (often mirroring posture: friendly, hostile, deceitful, and when used with speech can reinforce the speaker’s meaning or detract from it).
As discussed in the website’s Faces Topics under Headhunters, employers, for example, would consider an applicant’s total physical presentation (along with the obvious job qualifications), which include general appearance, hygiene, grooming and attire along with personality in which facial expression and other elements of body language are integral.
Scientists agree that first impressions are powerful and long lasting. But it is important to distinguish those derived from brief encounters or glimpses—as opposed to multiple encounters or moving images seen typically in videos and especially with audio, wherein clear patterns of behavior can be more readily discerned.
So a single, brief interview or submitted photo could give an inaccurate or a misleading impression, which, if given the opportunity, can be overcome or reversed by certain measures of self-improvement, the outward signs of which become evident at later showings.
Counselors now provide sartorial and grooming tips as well as therapy to build self-esteem, while encouraging confidence-building and health enhancing measures such as voice, yoga or dance lessons—all to help create an attractive, competent, self-assured person brimming with vitality whose face and facial expressions are reflective of that.
Many websites and seminars now promise to help you read others’ body language as well as how to improve yours in order to lead or just engage others more effectively.
As alluded to previously, some believe “acting as if”, that is: employing more positive gestures, posture, or facial expressions (practicing smiling) can help create new patterns of belief and behavior for the person needing improvement.
One website features face and body reading for business, demonstrating how one can detect (and overcome) stress, nervousness, shyness or even deceit and guilt for purposes of influencing people and achieving business goals. (One demonstrator’s background was in law enforcement where skilled reading and practice of body language can enable criminal convictions.)
According to experts, in addition to verbal clues indicating stress and guilt (responses that are vague or evasive, exaggerated, hostile or overly compliant)—non-verbal clues include: inappropriate laughing, giggling, or (phony or excessive) smiling, agitation, anger, sneering, scowling, freezing or stiffness of facial features, excessive pausing, shiftiness of eyes, blinking, squinting, looking away, twitching or other facial tics, perspiring, scratching or fidgeting with ears, nose, hair, hands and fingers, covering face with palm of hand.
Other signs of deceit could be contradictory nodding or shaking of head, biting or extreme pursing of lip, tongue between teeth, breathing and voice changes (raspy, shallow, shaky, high-pitched), rapid, stuttering or hesitant speech, wrinkling nose or flaring nostrils, jaw tightening or flexing, brows together tightly, asymmetrical smile.
Body language experts advise interviewees to stand or sit upright and confidently, relaxed and not stiff or hunched over; to smile purposefully in a friendly manner and not continuously which can connote submissiveness; to maintain eye contact most of the time (60-70%) but again not excessively or too intensely; to listen with one’s entire body turned toward the speaker; when speaking, avoid rising or questioning tones at ends of sentences or sing-song tones; use gestures in a natural, unexaggerated way to add emphasis or authenticity to remarks. (Exaggeration suggests deceit.)
A former FBI agent advises advantageous body language: head tilt shows friendly vulnerability; animated, expressive faces are more attractive and influential; mirroring the other person’s posture and gestures shows empathy; “pointing” with a full hand, not a finger is a welcoming rather than a threatening gesture.
But one authority warned that “con” artists can become expert actors, so beware of theatrically “perfect” presentations. An Internet lecturer divulging the “secrets” of lie spotters cited evidence that some murderers tend to “leak” sadness; other sociopaths flash contempt or gloat; practiced deceivers deliberately lower their tones of voice. (But, the lecturer warned, amateur body language readers should not play expert; it takes rigorous training, practice and experience to learn to pick up clues and detect patterns or “clusters” of clues that justify a conclusion of deception.
Faces Tell All predicts the development of enormous facial databases coupled to surveillance scanning cameras, which can literally “study” individuals or groups over periods of time, monitoring changes that deviate from determined base lines of non-verbal behavior. Such databases contain far greater detail and sample size than the human eye and brain could record so that patterns and clusters of clues would be more readily detected. And, as to verbal cues (speech, conversation), even without audio tracking—lip-reading technology, such as reportedly installed in UK surveillance systems, anticipates a frighteningly efficient scenario of “Big Brother is spying on you”.
Personality characteristics are more evident in moving and/or multiple images of the face and body: Investigators seem to agree that to be reliable indicators, body language including facial expression, must be read in context to each individual’s repertory and seen in multiple encounters or images.
Generally speaking, “extreme” smiles and scowls, for example, are easily discernible, but to be considered accurate and comprehensive, studies of an individual’s responsive body language should, logically, include their entire gamut of emotions and expressions and be elicited by standardized/controlled verbal or other stimuli (such as flashing provocative or disturbing scenes or images).
(Otherwise, when surveilling a group, not only could one elicit different—and confusing—individual emotions and expressions to the same stimulus (for example: surprise, bafflement, anger or disgust) in different individuals but each of these responses could be difficult to quantify without knowing variations within individuals.)
Thus, for instance, more callous individuals could conceivably be less aroused or even amused at scenes of abuse used as a stimulus; and ultra sensitive or timid individuals might “overreact” at a scene considered less provocative by a consensus of those studied.
Such comprehensive studies of body language and expression are more likely to be used in industrial psychology and especially in authoritarian societies, but seem theoretically plausible.
As reported previously on the Faces Tell All website, Chinese surveillance programs and others could have capability of reading the “mood of the masses” in general as well as in “testing” stimuli such as announcements of news pertinent to the group studied. (How does group react to election results or news of a possible pay raise or freeze?)
Again referencing The Economist (Sept. ‘17) “Nowhere to Hide” cover story on faces technology, among the dangers of burgeoning surveillance are that behaviors will become increasingly conditioned, guarded, calculated and inauthentic:
“Eventually, continuing facial recording and gadgets that paint computerized data onto the real world might change the texture of social interactions. Dissembling helps grease the wheels of daily life. If your partner can spot every suppressed yawn, and your boss every grimace of irritation, marriages are relationships will be more truthful, but less harmonious.”
The Economist continues: “The basis of social interactions might change, too, from a set of commitments founded on trust to calculations of risk and reward derived from the information a computer attaches to someone’s face. Relationships might become more rational, but also more transactional.” (And, one might add, more robotic.)