EMOTION CUE

Nonverbal Cues

Sign. 1. A facial expression, body movement, or tone of voice indicative of emotion. 2. Specifically, e.g., a fist of anger, a jaw-droop in surprise, or a throat-clear of uncertainty.

Usage: We have a rich vocabulary of emotion cues showing how we feel about ourselves and others. In the realm of emotion, words are often less trustworthy than nonverbal signs. This is because the latter cues are usually unintentional, involuntary, and unconscious. While some emotion cues (see, e.g., POUT and SMILE) are well known, many (see, e.g., ADAM'S-APPLE-JUMP and TENSE-MOUTH) have neither common names nor listings in standard verbal dictionaries.

Anatomy I (face). 1. Eye, nose, mouth, throat, and laryngeal openings are controlled by muscles and nerves from tissues of ancient pharyngeal arches. Thus, a. we may close (i.e., constrict) our facial features to show negative emotion (e.g., frown, throat-clear), and b. open (i.e., dilate) them to show pleasant feelings and moods (e.g., eyebrow-raise, laugh). 2. Facial flushing is visible as sympathetic nerves respond to fight-or-flight impulses (e.g., from embarrassment due to stranger anxiety).

Anatomy II (body). 1. A powerful feeling may release neck reflexes (e.g., of the ATNR), resulting in hand-behind-head gestures or hyperextended reaching cues. 2. Fear may show as the amygdala activates our body's protective freeze reaction. 3. Horror may show in the two-handed lip-touch cue.

Anatomy III (face and body). "At the neuromuscular level emotion is primarily facial activity and facial patterning, and secondarily it is bodily (postural-gestural, visceral, and sometimes vocal) response" (Izard 1971:185; but note that Izard's hypothesis, because it is advanced by a specialist on the human face, is doubtful; see, e.g., ENTERIC BRAIN).

RESEARCH REPORTS: There is long-standing debate about emotion cues: are they learned or innate? Clearly, both nature and nurture (i.e, culture [see, e.g., ISOPRAXISM]) play roles, but for any given cue (see, e.g., EYE-BLINK) one or the other may predominate. 1. ". . . the different races of man express their emotions and sensations with remarkable uniformity throughout the world" (Darwin 1872:130-31). 2. ". . . there are probably no universal symbols of emotional states" (Birdwhistell 1970:30). 3. ". . . while the facial muscles which move when a particular affect is aroused are the same across cultures, the evoking stimuli, the linked effects, the display rules and the behavioral consequences all can vary enormously from one culture to another (Ekman and Friesen 1969:73). 4. "Even though no credible research indicates that facial expressions are entirely learned, that does not mean that learning perspectives have no place in our understanding of facial expressions" (Richmond, et al. 1991:76).

Neuro-notes I. Unlike fish, amphibians, and reptiles, we are strongly emotional beings who run "hot" or "cold," and rarely feel neutral about the days of our lives. Emotion cues commence with activity in the brain's limbic system. When stimulated, its septum, e.g. (a pleasure area of the forebrain), may arouse facial expressions of happiness and joy. With those we love, the mammalian brain's cingulate gyrus inspires grooming, nuzzling, and cuddle cues.

Neuro-notes II. PET studies indicate that, in right-handed normal subjects, the right inferior frontal cortex is activated during the assessment of facial emotion (Nakamura et al., 1999).

See also MAMMALIAN BRAIN, NONVERBAL COMMUNICATION, NONVERBAL RELEASE.

YouTube Video: See how the entire human body expresses emotions.

Copyright 1998 - 2016 (David B. Givens/Center for Nonverbal Studies)