Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Brain Processes Facial Expressions- But what if they are fake?

Source: Pricelessparenting.com

How are you feeling?

I love this How are you feeling tool by pricelessparenting.com (it's a free printable chart!)  Several other mood assessment charts exist and are so helpful when children and others cannot put their feelings into words. 

But what happens when a child or adult learns how to fake an expression, to hide feelings? 

The Condolence Coach poses this question after reading a report about a study published in the April 19 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience by Ohio State University researchers. Seeking to locate the brain area where we translate and label someone else's facial expressions, test subjects were shown a thousand photographs of human facial expressions.

Study author, Aleix Martinez, a cognitive scientist and professor of electrical and computer engineering at Ohio State reported that:
 "Our brains decode facial expressions by adding up sets of key muscle movements in the face of the person we are looking at." He continued, "Humans use a very large number of facial expressions to convey emotion, other non-verbal communication signals and language." [Source: cbsnews.com April 20, 2016]

Learning to fake it

Heart Keys, acrylic on canvas,
 Suzy St. John
In my post What's the Big Hurry? Stop Pushing the Bereaved grieving men, women and teens reported feeling naked when baring emotions; they find the expectations of others, draining. The pressure to 'move on' is tremendous; in fact, deep grief six months after a death is considered to be a sign of mental illness! No wonder a grieving person quickly learns to mask feelings. An arsenal of euphemisms come out in response to that well-intentioned question:  "How are you?"
Faking it can include flat emotion that passes as disinterest. The Condolence Coach urges friends, family, and coworkers to assume pain continues.  Your "posterior superior temporal sulcus (pSTS)" [Source: cbsnews.com April 20, 2016] may be firing normally, but we're talking about a psycho-cultural cleverness rooted in basic human survival:  it will always win over a machine (the pSTS.) 

Filter the fake

Irie, OpenPhoto
The simmer of ache, anger, anxiety, loneliness and emptiness continues in a grieving person, no matter what their face tells you. Here are some ideas on how to filter through the fake and deliver real care and comfort:
  • It is not up to you to heal the grief.  But your note will be a balm and help in ways you may not know. Acknowledge that you cannot imagine what this loss feels like, but you recognize courage when you see it. There are documented health benefits to feeling cared about; a condolence note delivers comfort and often, hope, because it can be re-read in any hour of need. 
  • Forget what you think you know about grief, including what you believe an expression is telling you. There are many myths about grief and rather than give advice, your friend or co-worker just needs you to listen.
  • It is never too late to write a condolence note. Once while waiting for an oil change, I struck up a conversation with another customer and discovered she was related to a former employer. She informed me that one of his adult children had died the previous year. I found an address and sent him and his wife a note. There is a 'higher reason' this information reached you now. Use it!
  • Anniversary notes are deeply appreciated. As I explained in my post When Little Birds Chirp, writing to the bereaved on the occasion of their loved one's birthday or death anniversary is not a painful reminder. 
  • These principles apply to pet loss, too! Acknowledge the wonderful friendship but do not discuss a 'replacement pet'. 

    Thank you for caring!

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