Have you ever heard the saying, 'a picture is worth a thousand words but your smile is worth a million?' What about a frown? How much is that worth?
Analyzing people’s emotions is the first step toward understanding often subconscious triggers that play significant roles in decision making. Some psychologists estimate up to 95% of our decisions are made at a subconscious or preconscious level.
The time it takes for us to decide whether we like or dislike something can be just a few milliseconds – before we are consciously aware of the object of our observation.
Microexpressions are fleeting and can occur when trying to conceal or repress the current emotional state. Typically lasting less than five seconds - anger, fear, sadness, disgust, contempt, surprise, and happiness are universal emotions. While there are some visual differences between ethnicities, the same combination of facial muscles evoke these emotions, making them universal across all races and both genders.
A neuroscientific explanation of microexpressions relates them to the activity of mirror neurons in the brain. A person’s degree of empathy is related to how well they can read other people’s nonverbal cues, including facial microexpressions. Mirror neurons may cause us to physically copy other people’s facial expressions in order to subconsciously experience their emotions.
Joy and happiness elicit smiles. Think of your own experience: when a stranger on the street walks by you and smiles, you immediately without much thought to it smile right back. These are your mirror neurons kicking into gear, allowing you to experience the same feeling immediately and effortlessly.
A recently published study suggests that when people smile, strangers may be less likely to judge them based on their race and gender. By conveying friendliness and openness, people may stop harsh snap judgments in their tracks.
In the study, the subjects viewed photographs of faces and rated the people depicted on Big Five personality traits. The photographs included Caucasian and Japanese men and women. 50% of the subjects looked at photographs showing faces with a neutral expression, and the other half looked at the same faces smiling.
When judging the inexpressive faces, the group showed hints of applying some preconceived notions about gender and ethnicity in their impressions. They rated Caucasian men lower on agreeableness than Caucasian women, and Japanese women as less extroverted than their Caucasian counterparts.
But when the same faces were smiling, the biases disappeared. The results indicate that smiling sends social cues, which people use to form a quick idea about the person they’ve just met.
Facial microexpression analysis can be most beneficially used alongside other psychophysiological research methods. Capturing participants’ facial microexpression data in combination with their eye movements, galvanic skin response (GSR), and self-reports provides deeper insights into the emotional journey a consumer takes when processing a marketing proposition.
Physiological testing can quantify the customer experience and identify subconscious emotions elicited by direct mail, email, digital advertisements, websites, and social media.
Think about your next campaign – how many smiles could behavioral research insights be worth?