Wednesday, September 4th 2019
Body language is not always as clear but nevertheless plays an important role in our daily communication. Although, we express our thoughts verbally, our demeanour give away clues to our feelings and the value we attach to the conversation. Non-verbal communication via a person's body movements, facial expressions, vocal tone and volume, and other clues are collectively known as body language.
Body language is a vital form of understanding others as well as transmitting the right message to the people we converse with. By building awareness to one's body, we can improve our body language and encourage others to form better relationship too.
A research by Gijsbert Bijlstra and colleagues (2018) of Radboud University (the Netherlands), argue that people under some conditions are better able to recognise emotions from body language than they are from facial expression. Rare as it is to be in a situation in which you’re reading someone’s emotions from a completely neutral, or “bottom-up,” standpoint, where your expectations play no role in interpreting that person's body language. Instead, you may be more influenced than you realize by the “top-down” process of letting your expectations to project over your perceptions. Clearly demonstrated in online dating scene when you already decided that the person you’re about to meet is going to be someone you will like. You’ll therefore be more likely to ignore or discount some of the qualities that might otherwise bother you, such as the fact that your date doesn’t smile as much as you would prefer.
Bijlstra propose that the process of reading other people’s body language is influenced by so-called “social category” cues that identify a person’s standing or position in society. In the study, gender became the social category cue that formed the focus of that top-down process. The authors note that gender is inseparable from the way others perceive you and, hence, the way they interpret your emotional expression. If you’re a man displaying a “typical” male emotion, others should be able to identify your emotion more rapidly than if you’re a woman displaying the same “male” emotion. Conversely, a woman showing a “typical” female emotion should also be more quickly responded to than a man showing the same emotion.
To test the proposal that gender affects the perception of body language, the Dutch author created stimuli showing silhouettes of women and men showing the same emotions. The undergraduate participants conducted a speed classification task in which they were instructed to identify the emotions depicted in these stimuli as fast as possible. The author compared the speed with which the participants classified gender-congruent emotions with their speed in identifying gender-incongruent emotions. As they predicted, participants more readily identified anger in men and sadness in women than anger in women and sadness in men.
The Biljstra et al. findings demonstrate that the way you interpret people’s emotions is indeed affected by your expectations in the form of stereotypes about the social category they represent. Although gender was the only social cue investigated in this particular study, it would be reasonable to expect that categories such as age, race, and social class could play similar roles in affecting the way you interpret emotions.
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