Tennis players are psychologically amusing creatures. Their weird sounds and desperate faces show us a wide range of strong emotions. But actually it’s their body language that tells us the most about what they’re feeling, researchers recently discovered.
We usually detect the mental state of people by looking at their faces. The most subtile expressions can be read easily. But if the emotion gets too strong, the face failes. Then we have to look at body language to correctly interpret the grimace.
In a study published in Science subjects were shown faces of tennis players in either great pain or euphorism. The faces were displayed without the bodies or even on top of other bodies expressing another emotion.
It turned out that without the body, the subjects weren’t able to tell if the tennis players were happy or sad. Put on the wrong body, the faces were even interpreted as expressing a totally different emotion.
Not that the subjects were aware of this. Pointing out a defeated face on a happy body as a winner, they said it was obviously the face that told them so.
Aviezer, H., Trope, Y., & Todorov, A. (2012). Body Cues, Not Facial Expressions, Discriminate Between Intense Positive and Negative Emotions Science, 338 (6111), 1225-1229 DOI: 10.1126/science.1224313