Body Language and the B problem

The day after my last post on body language (NVC) there was Judy James on Sky News talking about politicians and their ritual handshakes. Useful and entertaining stuff.

But back to facial expressions and the B problem. Yes Botox.

Used by women and men to smooth the furrowed brow, stamp out the crows feet and even to enhance power negotiations apparently. But what tricks it plays when trying to interpret that smile – or a frown for that matter.

US studies, to be published in Psychological Science, show that not only does Botox get rid of your wrinkles but that it may damage your social life as well. Failure to show appropriate emotions, especially sadness or empathy, will be interpreted as a lack of sympathy or interest.

And this goes further than an argument about vanity. The debate about the mind-body connection goes back a long way including Darwin’s hypothesis that facial expression is important in producing emotion in the brain. If you smile more you will feel happier (an idea adopted by positive psychology), if you stand tall you will feel more confident, if you look at the ground you will feel more depressed etc (exercise is recognised as a good way of countering depression by the way).

So not being able to frown or facially respond to sadness not only means other people will think you don’t care but may actually slow down your empathetic response.

Updated 24 July 2010: And “dimpleplasty” – the creation of dimples by cutting a hole in your cheek and stitching it to your muscles – can have a similar effect by making you have a permanent Cheryl Cole-like smile.

As Carol Midgley writes in the Times magazine (24 July 2010). having a permanent grin when you hear your neighbour’s dog has died could be awkward!


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