How to read facial expressions and emotions when we are all wearing masks

Now that wearing masks in public spaces has become the norm, you might have found it’s harder to interact with people.

With more than half of our faces covered up it can be hard to know whether someone is flirting or scowling, joking or being deadly serious. And it is making social interaction quite difficult.

New research has revealed that 76% of Brits struggle to read others when they are wearing a face covering, with more than half mistaking their expression completely.

Now body language expert Judi James has revealed her top tips for reading people – and not surprisingly, it is all in the eyes.

‘The human animal has always depended on facial expression as a way of social and workplace communication and over the years the key focus has been the mouth,’ says Judi, speaking on behalf of Vision Direct who commissioned the research.

‘We have come to depend on this widening of the lips as a rapport-building social shorthand, which is why the wearing of face masks has caused worries in terms of closing down our ability to communicate.

‘The good news is that our eyes are more than capable of taking over the job of transmitting and reading non-verbal signals, in fact one of the reasons we tend to direct attention to our mouth expressions is that our eyes are such strong (and more honest) conveyors of moods and emotions.’

The study also found that six in 10 adults admit to having not understood what someone was saying when they had a mask on, and 42% put this down to not being able to see their lips.

55% have mistaken someone’s expression – with seven in 10 now trying harder to study and read someone’s eyes to guess what face they are making behind the mask.

How to read someone’s expression behind a mask

Here are Judi James’s top tips for recognising emotions and reading people’s facial expressions even when hidden behind a mask:

The eye-smile

‘Smile like a cat’, suggests Judi. She says cats ‘smile’ by narrowing and softening their eye shape.

‘A genuine-looking eye-smile should involve some wrinkling at the corners and the rounding of the cheeks that occurs when we perform an authentic smile will push the lower lid upward slightly too.’

The eye flash

The eye flash can work like a micro-handshake and Judi says it can suggest good humour and a liking of the other person. 

‘The eyes narrow in the eye-smile but the brows pop up and down again in one rapid movement,’ she says. ‘It can also be used as a momentary tie-sign with other people, even strangers. 

‘The eye-flash has another use, though. In a social situation like a bar or club it is often thrown to flirt as it can signal “I like what I see”.’

Fun and humour

This is an important one. Judi says we tend to be attracted to people who can lighten and boost our mood, so it’s important to be able to recognise the signals.

‘Fun is a two-part eye ritual,’ she explains. ‘Part one involves a rounding of the eye to suggest shared excitement, but with the brows kept in their normal position to avoid looking scared or shocked.

‘Part two is the narrowing, eye-smile shape, with a subtle lowering of the top lid.’

Dislike/disgust

When we dislike something, Judi says we tend to mimic the rituals of a baby rejecting food. Here’s how to recognise this feeling in other people:

‘For the eyes this involves a puckered frown, narrowed eye shape and a wrinkling of the skin at the bridge of the nose,’ says Judi.

‘This is one of many facial expression rituals that are linked directly to the survival response. When food smelled bad it would cause this automatic closing of the mouth and eyes and often a shaking of the head to make eating it impossible.’

Love/attraction/liking

If you’re on a socially-distanced date, you have to be able to pick up on this important emotion.

Judi says the eyes are a dead-giveaway if someone likes you.

‘Our eye expression softens when we see someone we like and it forms “the look of love” when we gaze at our partner,’ she adds. ‘There’s a very dramatic non-verbal give-away too though that only comes from the eye.

‘Pupil dilation is a physiological response when we look at someone we like or love and as it occurs naturally and can’t be simulated it’s one of the greatest “tells” in terms of our body language.’

Fear

How can you tell if someone is afraid just from one half of their face? Judi says it isn’t very complicated.

‘Fear is primarily an eye expression and involves a rounding of the eye shape and a small puckering together and upward of the inner brows.6’

Surprise/shock

‘This is another eye expression that is prompted by the survival response as the widening of the eye would allow for better vision during a surprise attack,’ says Judi.

‘The eyebrows raise in an arch and the eyes widen so that the white of the eye is visible nearly all the way around the pupil.’

Concern/empathy

We all need empathy from our loved ones right now, and it’s important to be able to tell when they are showing this.

‘The brows need to be pulled into a gentle frown but the eye shape itself needs to be softened to avoid the frown looking angry,’ says Judi.

‘A small head-tilt signals active, empathetic listening.’

Anger

Judi says that eye signals can vary depending on the levels of anger, but there are some things that always happen when someone is pissed off.

‘A classic expression would be knitted brows that come as low as possible over the eyes plus a hard eye-stare with the eyes slightly rounded,’ says Judi.

‘The head would be tilted forward slightly, too. 

‘Another signal of growing anger or feelings of being under pressure is the eye-stutter where the blink rate quickens.’

Disbelief/distrust

‘When we’re confused or puzzled or suffering from mixed emotions the facial expression becomes asymmetric, meaning parts of the face will be sending out contrasting signals from others,’ explains Judi.

‘With the eyes, you might see one brow raising while the other is lowered or remains neutral or even one eye crinkling in a smile while the other stays more rounded.’

Do you have a story to share? We want to hear from you.

Get in touch: [email protected]

Source: Read Full Article