EXPRESSIVE BEHAVIOR

This term is used for “those aspects of movement which are distinctive enough to differentiate one individual from another” (Allport and Vernon, 1933). They include gesture, handwriting, facial expression, gait, posture, voice, and linguistic patterns. The studies in the field have focused on two basic questions: How much consistency is there between different expressive movements? and, How well do these movements express emotions and personality characteristics?There is considerable evidence for consistency among various expressive movements. Enke (1930) has shown that there are consistent differences among Kretschmer’s personality types in vastly different activities, such as reacting to music, writing with a pen, and carrying a glass of water. Wolff (1930) found that judges could match records of the same individual’s handwriting, vocal expression, manner of retelling a story, and facial profile with considerable accuracy. Arnheim (1928) demonstrated that personality sketches could be matched with handwriting; quotations of authors, with their photographs; and silhouettes with descriptive terms—all somewhat above chance. See CONSTITUTIONAL TYPES.In their experimental studies, Allport and Vernon gave a series of thirty motor tests to large groups of subjects, including writing, tapping, walking, reaching, and drawing simple figures, and then scored each test objectively in terms of such characteristics as pressure of movement, speed, size etc. Analysis of these performances revealed that (a) gesture patterns are stable characteristics of individuals; (b) the same task tends to be performed in the same way by different muscle groups (e.g. by right and left hand); (c) different tasks are also performed in much the same way by different muscle groups. After reviewing their own experiments and those of other investigators, these authors conclude that “Fundamentally our results lend support to the personalistic contentions that there is some degree of unity in personality, that this unity is reflected in expression, and that, for this reason, acts and habits of expression show a certain consistency among themselves.”The Allport and Vernon studies have shown, however, that the unities and consistencies have to be defined with great care. They did not find evidence for a general speed factor, or uniform “psychic tempo,” but discovered three independent speed factors, one for drawing, another for verbal expression, and a third for rhythmic movements. Similarly, they did not Uncover a general psychomotor power or energy factor, but found evidence that some individuals express themselves more emphatically than others as a result of what they termed “psychic pressure.” There was also evidence that some people are more “expansive” than others in all their movements, such as walking stride and handwriting. Others were found to be especially free and impulsive in their movements. These two tendencies, termed “areal” and “centrifugal,” were found to be relatively independent of each other.A careful comparative study has shown that the gestures of Italian immigrants tend to be sweeping, symmetrical, bilateral, and emotionally expressive; while those of traditional Eastern Jews in America were found to be more cramped, intricate, unilateral, and ideographic. However, among assimilated or “Americanized” Jews and Italians the gesture patterns resembled those of the particular social and economic stratum with which they were identified. Moreover, traditional Jews living among Italians and traditional Italians living among Jews also tended to adopt the gestures of the particular group they lived with, and those who were simultaneously exposed to both of these subgroups showed hybrid gesture patterns (Efron and Foley, 1937).A huge number of studies have been made of facial expressions in emotion. Historically speaking, the anatomist Charles Bell (1806, 1844) held that most facial movements are practical rather than expressive—that is, the angry dog opens his mouth to make respiration easier. But he also suggested that certain muscles found in apes and men, such as the corrugators that knit the brow, function only to express finer shades of feeling. Darwin, on the other hand, felt that the human tendency to open the mouth and show the teeth is a remnant of the teeth-baring that occurs in simian combat. The German anatomist, Piderit (1872), held that facial expression has a present utility in terms of assisting or impeding our sensory experience—for example, the tongue is pressed against the lips in savoring a substance, but is withdrawn to minimize a bitter taste. Similarly, interest and attention are expressed by opening the eyes widely, and indifference by keeping them half shut. These and other points were supported by pictures of facial expressions associated with various emotions.Boring and Titchener (1923) made compound pictures out of the mouths, brows, noses and eyes taken from the Piderit pictures and showed that almost any combination, even those including contradictory components, would be accepted by some subjects as genuine expressions of certain emotions. Buzby (1924) and Femberger (1928) presented the full Piderit faces to subjects along with a list of emotions, and found little agreement in their judgments. This suggested that either the face does not effectively communicate emotions to others, or that the subjects were particularly unskilled in reading emotions from facial expression. By giving “false” names to the facial expressions, and asking whether they expressed the designated emotions well or poorly, Fem- berger showed that his subjects were often greatly influenced by suggestion. This result indicated that in everyday life the situation, or context, may play a large part in suggesting what the facial expression means.Many experiments have lent support to this view. In one study, facial pictures of athletes gasping for air at the finish of a hundred-yard dash were shown to a large group of subjects. They named a wide variety of emotions, few of them close to the mark. Similarly, Geldard (1962) cites an experiment in which the same close-up of an actor’s face was combined with three different pictures, one showing a plate of soup, another a dead woman in a coffin, and the third a little girl playing with an amusing toy bear. When all three photos were shown to the same audience, they commented enthusiastically about the actor’s ability to express appropriate emotional responses! Other experiments have revealed considerable disagreement among observers who were asked to identify posed expressions of experienced actors (Langfeld, 1918). Kanner (1931) has presented evidence that posed expressions of the more overt emotions, such as surprise, fear, rage, and horror, can be correctly identified by more than 50 per cent of judges, but the average score was less than 25 per cent on posed expressions of the more subtle emotions such as pity and suspicion (PLATES 26 AND 27).A number of experiments have been performed in which photos were taken of individuals placed in situations designed to elicit various emotions. Landis (1924) had his subjects inspect pornographic pictures, smell ammonia after reading the false label “Syrup of Lemon,” put their hand in a bucket of live frogs, examine colored photographs of horrible skin diseases, and so on. Photos of their spontaneous expressions were taken with a hidden camera, and then shown to groups of college students. Only 31 per cent of their judgments agreed with the introspective reports of the subjects who had gone through the experiences. Moreover, a careful analysis of the expressions themselves revealed no significant correspondence either with the situations or with the emotions reported by the subjects. In fact, many subjects used characteristic expressions or mannerisms, such as wrinkling the brow or pursing the lips, for all emotions.These results strongly suggest that there may be no universal facial expressions by which we can distinguish different emotions. As Crafts and others (1938) state, in commenting on Landis’ results, “What happens in most cases of so-called ‘reading emotion from the face’ is that we observe, not only the facial expression of an individual, but also many other perceptual aspects of his behavior (e.g. verbal, gestural, and postural signs), and especially important, we observe, as well, the situation which is stimulating him.” They also point out that we can read the emotions of friends and relatives with some accuracy by using subtle cues which we come to know through long and intimate association.

Cite this page: N., Pam M.S., "EXPRESSIVE BEHAVIOR," in PsychologyDictionary.org, November 28, 2018, https://psychologydictionary.org/expressive-behavior/ (accessed March 18, 2019).
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