"It was written all over his face." That's what we say when we think someone's expression has told a truer tale than their words. It is the kind of statement that shows that we naturally pay a great deal of attention to the face when we are trying to assess emotion or credibility. But maybe we pay too much attention. According to research reviewed in a recent post in Psyblog, it is actually the tone of voice and not the face that does the better job of accurately conveying emotion.
The study (Kraus, 2017) shows people actually read emotions more accurately when listening and not when looking at faces. Over the course of five experiments involving over 1,772 participants, Dr. Michael Kraus looked at the ability to accurately empathize under three conditions: while looking at and listening to a subject, while just looking, or while just listening. The third condition won out, and accuracy was best when the research participants were just listening and not when they were just watching, or listening and watching at the same time. Similar results have been found in other studies. But why would less information be an advantage? Kraus suspects it is because people are better at hiding or faking emotions via the face rather than the voice, and listening and watching at the same time is cognitively complex, which causes the more reliable signs in the voice to be outweighed or missed. "Actually considering what people are saying and the ways in which they say it can," Kraus notes, "lead to improved understanding of others at work or in your personal relationships.” It can also lead to better client assessment and witness preparation, as I'll share in this post.