The Situationist

Interpreting Facial Expressions

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 20, 2008

Clinton McCain ObamaDel Jones of USA Today has an interesting piece on the research of Dan Hill, an expert in facial coding, a system of classifying hundreds of tiny muscle movements in the face. Below is a brief excerpt from the article as it pertains to the expressions of Senators Barrack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John McCain.

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“It is presidential season and Hill, president of Sensory Logic and author of a book about facial coding called Emotionomics: Winning Hearts and Minds, has been in demand to find clues in the faces of the candidates. John McCain forces smiles and, true to his reputation, angers easily, as demonstrated by puffed cheeks and a chin thrust upward in disgust, Hill says. Hillary Clinton smirks, an expression “she oddly enough shares with President Bush,” which conveys an attitude of assurance bordering on superiority and smugness. Barack Obama has the best true smile, but flashes it rarely for someone who speaks of hope, and Hill sees flashes of disdain, aloofness, disappointment and exasperation.”

To watch a video of Dan Hill’s analysis of the smiles of several candidates, click on the video below.

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Undoubtedly, people’s facial expressions often speak louder than their words about their attitudes, emotions, and associations. And it is certainly the case that scientists are learning more every day about the sources and meaning of those facial expressions. Still, we have our doubts about the reliability Hill’s process of facial-coding, particularly given his seeming readiness to reach firm conclusions about a given individual’s stable preferences, emotional states, or attitudes through that process.

For other Situationist posts on politics, click here.

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3 Responses to “Interpreting Facial Expressions”

  1. TJ said

    Facial expressions can doubtless provide insight into a person’s emotional state, but these interpretations seem almost immediately skewed by the bias of the interpreter. How often a person who speaks of hope should flash a genuine smile, for example, is more a matter of opinion than it is of interpreting facial expression. And “smugness” is a particularly negative and highly subjective way to interpret a smirk. Still, simple observations such as McCain smiling when he’s not really happy, or how quickly he angers can help observers spot a candidate’s true position amid all the spin. Interesting way to read a person, but I’d always consider the reader.

  2. […] For the rest of the article, click here. For a related post, see “The Facial Obviousness of Lying.” For a recent post on the interpretation of presidential candidates’ facial expressions, click here. […]

  3. Brian said

    An entry about facial expression decoding on the Situationist blog? Really? What approach to interpreting human behavior could be less situationist?

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