A person’s face, especially their eyes, creates the most obvious and immediate cues that lead to the formation of impressions. This article discusses eyes and facial expressions and the effect they have on interpersonal communication.
A person’s eyes reveal much about how they are feeling, or what they are thinking. Blink rate can reveal how nervous or at ease a person may be. Research by Boston Collegeprofessor Joe Tecce suggests that stress levels are revealed by blink rates. He supports his data with statistics on the relation between the blink rates of presidential candidates and their success in their races. Tecce claims that the faster blinker in the presidential debates has lost every election since 1980. Though Tecce’s data is interesting, it is important to recognize that non-verbal communication is multi-channeled, and focusing on only one aspect is reckless. Nervousness can also be measured by examining each candidates’ perspiration, eye contact and stiffness.
Within their first year, Infants learn rapidly that the looking behaviors of others conveys significant information. Infants prefer to look at faces that engage them in mutual gaze and that, from an early age, healthy babies show enhanced neural processing of direct gaze.
Eye contact is another major aspect of facial communication. Some have hypothesized that this is due to infancy, as humans are one of the few mammals who maintain regular eye contact with their mother while nursing. Eye contact serves a variety of purposes. It regulates conversations, shows interest or involvement, and establishes a connection with others.
Facial expression is used in sign languages to convey specific meanings. In American Sign Language (ASL), for instance, raised eyebrows combined with a slightly forward head tilt indicate that what is being signed is a yes/no question. Lowered eyebrows are used for wh-word questions. Facial expression is also used in sign languages to show adverbs and adjectives such as distance or size: an open mouth, squinted eyes, and tilted back head indicate something far while the mouth pulled to one side and the cheek held toward the shoulder indicate something close, and puffed cheeks mean very large. It can also show the manner in which something is done, such as carelessly or routinely. Some of these expressions, also called non-manual signs, are used similarly in different sign languages while others are different from one language to another. For example, the expression used for ‘carelessly’ in ASL means ‘boring or unpleasant’ in British Sign Language.
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