You can tell a lot about a person merely by what their movements and actions are telling you; these ‘channels’ of the body are what express the mind’s emotional state, and help to judge someone’s personality, and whether something is affecting their state of mind. When someone typically tries to figure out what someone’s emotional state may be, three determinants are used; the emotional state of the observer, the emotional state of the observed, and the information available to the observer by which he is making his analysis. These channels of the body are what provide the information to the observer in order to determine what the other person is experiencing. In this essay, the channels of the face, body and speech will be examined as per the article “Relative Importance of Face, Body and Speech in Judgments of Personality and Affect” (O’Sullivan & Scherer, 1980).
Facial expression is one very important channel – the movement of the facial muscles and features can tell someone a lot about what someone is experiencing. A furrowed brow may mean concentration or frustration; flared nostrils could imply that the person is angry. Smiling and frowning can mean that the person is happy or sad, respectively. The eyes carry a whole range of movements that can convey a number of emotions. As a result, it could be easy to see how looking at the face can contribute greatly to determining someone’s emotional state.
Body language, like the face, can tell people everything they need to know about a person’s state of mind. Crossed arms can imply that the person is impatient; a slumped posture can telegraph laziness in a person. The speed and way in which a person walks could also demonstrate whether or not they are feeling rushed or determined, proud or dejected, or many other emotions. The body has many moving parts; the way in which someone moves or positions them can form an impression in the observer of what the person is thinking, or how they are feeling at that particular time.
Speech is also a good audible indicator of a person’s emotional state or personality; tone and inflection is everything. There are tones for delight, anger, frustration, impatience, sarcasm, and many others. Because speech has the benefit of directly communicating the emotional state of mind of the observed, and because the act of speech is largely voluntary, it is one of the most direct channels to determine someone’s emotional state.
In O’Sullivan and Scherer’s experiment, a set of participants are exposed to various criteria and asked to participate in both honest and deception-based interviews. For the honest group, subjects were asked to speak frankly about their emotions, as nice videos played of nature scenes. With the deception group, horrible amputations and disgusting images were shown, and the subjects were asked to conceal their behavior and emotions. The subjects were either only videotaped in the face or the body, or only the sound was collected. People were then asked to observe these single channels to determine the state of mind of the subject through these individual criteria (O’Sullivan & Scherer, 1980).
According to the results, people were able to determine that the people in the deception group were stressed, despite their attempts to hide their emotional state. The group that examined the speech channel had the highest probability of finding the correct judgment and correlation between real attitudes and perceived attitudes. However, with the inclusion of other experiments, the researchers make it clear that “it would be unwise to claim that any one channel predominates in judging other people” (O’Sullivan & Scherer, p. 276).
Usually, the deception-based behavior was judged very differently than the honesty-based behavior for a couple of reasons; first, the voice pitch level went up in the subjects who engaged in deceptive behavior, which could have made the speech channel much more prominent as an indicator. Secondly, the theory of nonverbal leakage could have influenced the behavior; “people learn to monitor and disguise the content of their speech more than their face, body or voice quality” (O’Sullivan and Scherer, p. 276). Even though they manage to hide what they are feeling in their voice, the participants could have ‘leaked’ their true feelings through contradictory expressions in the face or body.
In conclusion, the determination of a person’s state of mind through communication channels such as the face, body and speech can be very complicated. There is no one channel that tells an observer more than another about the state of the person being observed; all of them contribute in their own ways to communicating what is going on in the mind of the observed. Single-channel investigation of a state is, therefore, inherently flawed (O’Sullivan & Scherer, 1980).
O'Sullivan, Maureen, and Klaus Scherer. "Relative Importance of Face, Body, and Speech in Judgments of Personality and Affect." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 38.2 (1980): 270-277. Print.