We can read emotions from the nose – and pretty well at that

We can read emotions from the nose – and pretty well at that

I’m looking at your nose, little one! The famous quote from the film from Casablanca doesn’t work quite like that, but maybe it should. Because the nose tells us a lot about the mood of the other person.

Sometimes 1000 words don’t reveal as much as a look in the face of the other person. A raised brow, wide open eyes, drooping corners of the mouth. Skepticism. Surprise. Grief. Entire emotional worlds can be read from faces. Most of the time, when reading the emotions of others, we focus on the expressiveness of the eyes, the movements of the mouth, and neglect another dominant facial feature, the nose. A mistake. Giessen perception researchers have now discovered quite by accident that moods can also be read at the top.

They exist, these people with the so-called poker face, which presents itself like a blank sheet of paper. Nothing, or hardly anything, can be seen in these faces. No joy, no pain, no disgust – nothing. It is correspondingly difficult to assess the corresponding person. But these are exceptional cases. Faces actually tell us a lot about their owners. At least that’s what we think. Based on them, we infer character traits and states of mind and orientate ourselves on certain perceptual impressions.

Understand nose codes better

So far, the nose has hardly played a role. As the research team describes in the article published in the journal “iPerception”, just looking at them can be enough to evaluate the expressions and properties shown. This is the result of a small online experiment in which 114 people took part. The participants first rated isolated nose, eye and mouth regions of 30 faces, then they rated the faces as a whole. It was shown that the ratings of the noses showed considerable agreement with the ratings of the complete faces – especially with regard to their emotional state, arousal and attractiveness.

“We were surprised to see how well this works,” says Dr. Ben de Haas, who oversaw the project. It is known that people can read emotional expressions from their eyes and mouth. “We didn’t expect that this would also work with the nose region,” says the experimental psychologist. The cheek lifters that frame the nose and play a major role in facial expressions probably contribute to this. Also, we might wrinkle or wrinkle our own noses. “Our results suggest that people also use such information to ‘read’ the faces of others,” says de Haas. Next, the researchers want to try to understand such “nose codes” better.

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The nose provides information about moods

The fact that the psychologists found out at all is due to chance and a completely different study. “The whole thing was a funny accident,” explains Maximilian Broda, first author of the study and doctoral student. Together with his doctoral supervisor, he tailored portraits for another study. They noticed that the isolated nose region appeared surprisingly expressive. The researchers investigated this observation and it was confirmed. They conclude that nasal regions convey a surprising amount of information about their bearers.

Microexpressions can also provide information about the other person. These are minute changes in facial expressions that are only perceptible for a fraction of a second. Emotions are generated in the limbic system. Since this part of the brain is not subordinate to consciousness, we usually do not notice anything at all. The facial muscles, on the other hand, react directly to changes in the limbic system. In order to correctly interpret these short-term facial expressions, you have to know the face of the other person in the normal state, i.e. the zero line.

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