We’ve all experienced it, spent time with someone who told us they were fine and everything was great in their life, but you have a feeling that everything wasn’t fine at all! I’ve also tried to pretend at times with good friends or family that things were better than they actually were too, as I am sure you have too?
After reading another thought provoking blog by Dr David Hamilton, an amazing man who also works with the mind-body connection, it made me think…We really should be encouraged to rely on our senses more often as our brain ‘reads’ emotion from micro facial expressions, undetectable to the conscious mind and eye, which are automatic, and relies on something called the mirror neuron system (MNS).
When you are around someone happy, your brain mirrors or copies this. Similarly, when you are around someone who is sad, your brain mirrors the movements of the muscles that convey sadness. That’s not all. It also copies the movements of their smile or sadness muscles, which is why you smile round happy people and feel happy around happy people. It’s called ‘Emotional Contagion’, which implies we can “catch” the emotions from others.
Furthermore as your own body copies these micro muscular movements, the unconscious mind recognises these signals and in turn releases the biochemicals within our brains associated with that mood, so it actually makes you physically feel that emotion, making you feel happy or sad, or depressed etc.
When someone says ‘I’m Fine’, and they’re not, your brain picks up on the tiny movements that convey sadness and stress, resulting in little, momentary, flashes of stress or sadness. When they keep saying everything is great, this results in you getting a feeling that something isn’t right, due to the biochemical being released within you mirroring their emotions.
Researchers at the University of Hawaii conducted a study in 1992. Volunteers were asked to watch a video of Polish factory workers being interviewed at a school reunion. As none of the volunteers spoke Polish, they dubbed the voice and used an actress who simulated a computer like voice to ensure she wasn’t showing any emotion. Normally when you’re happy your voice goes up. Of course, the real translation wasn’t used.
The volunteers were shown 4 clips:
1. The Happy-Happy clip. The voiceover ‘fake’ translation had the worker describing a happy event. This was true, she was describing a happy event.
2. The Happy-Sad clip. The voiceover fake translation was describing a happy event BUT the worker was actually describing a sad event.
3. The Sad-Happy clip. The voiceover was saying the worker was sad BUT she was actually happy, describing a happy event.
4. The Sad-Sad clip. The voiceover was saying sad, and she was indeed describing a sad event.
If we just took what people said at face value, and there was no emotional contagion, we would rate people’s emotional state based on what they tell us.
The volunteers were asked to rate the emotional state of the factory worker in each clip using a simple scale. The volunteers were expected to give the same scores in clips 1 & 2 because the voiceover of the worker was describing a happy event. But in actual fact, they rated her happiness much lower in clip 2, despite hearing the happy event.
Through emotional contagion, their own emotional state moved in the direction of sadness when they watched clip 2. In other words, despite what the voiceover was saying, the people watching the clip ’caught’ her real emotion as their unconscious minds picked up on the tiny micro muscle movements, displayed within brief microseconds, signalling the real truth, yet not detected by the conscious mind.
Similar findings happened with clips 3 & 4. The voiceovers described sad events, but in clip 3, the worker was actually describing a happy event. The volunteers rated her happiness higher than they did for clip 4 and their own emotional state was happier than it was after watching clip 4, again down to the Mirror Neurone System (MNS).
To conclude, the study suggests that if you watch someone who says they’re happy but really they’re not, their subtle facial expressions will give away how they are really feeling. Even if they try to make their faces appear happy, muscles ’flash’ with emotion faster than the conscious mind can usually override them, and then they are picked up by ourselves.
The ‘flashes’ last no more than a few thousandths of a second but that is enough for the mirror neurones in your brain that work ‘faster than the eye can tell’.
So, learn to trust your intuition, your inner voice, your ‘gut’ feeling, your unconscious mind, as it will have received a message from the other person and it’s probably right!