About face

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Perhaps facial expressions are not as meaningful as we think they are.

Northeastern University professor of psychology Lisa Feldman Barrett has published research that seems to contradict the famous study by Paul Ekman, which asserted that facial expressions have universal meaning.

Barrett’s research suggests than Ekman inadvertently primed his respondents to come up with the “correct” answer.  She claims, in fact, that body language is a much more influential cue than facial expression – and that in the real world, outside the lab, we generate conclusions about how people are feeling via a combination of contextual clues, including hand gestures, body position, tone of voice, and social setting.

As Barrett describes in the linked article, this insight could have profound implications for business, government agencies, and mental health treatment.