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mental health mondays :: can you see through the windows to the soul?

here's a thing to try... an on line quiz that tracks your ability to judge people's emotions just based on their eyes. if you've read the book blink, you know that micro-movements of the muscles in our face are pretty much hard-wired when we experience certain emotions. we make certain motions that betray our thoughts and feelings even when we don't mean to. and so tight is the bond between our feelings and our physical expression of those feelings that even making the faces associated with certain moods or states of mind can be enough to trigger those same states. so try to smile a lot.

i'm going to put a page break here so that i can discuss my results without providing spoilers. feel free to join me after the break when you've done the test.




ok, so i scored a 21. that's not great. that's actually below the threshold of 22, the low water mark of being able to reliably interpret people's emotions. in general, i fared better with moods that were negative. i was successfully able to identify things like dubiousness, hostility, nervousness and distrust. but i mistook things like playfulness or fantasizing for boredom. i was also weak on recognising threats. i couldn't correctly identify expressions of accusation or insistence, mistaking them for disappointment [note: i read that as disappointment in me, not disappointment in the world] or relaxation. so as a baseline, i struggle with identifying what people are thinking. i cannot read the micro-codes.

but what i found more interesting were the photos where i had a hard time making a choice because none of the options seemed to jive with my interpretation of the expression.

let's start with face #1 ::

correct answer: playful
choices: playful, comforting, irritated, bored
my choice: irritated

but what i really thought was... mocking or cruel. to me, that expression is the face of the schoolyard bully. i got annoyed right off the top because i was convinced that i knew what the expression was, but saw no corresponding answer. so i chose the closest one, which was the only one that had a negative connotation.

or we can look at the second last face ::

correct answer: nervous
choices: puzzled, nervous, insisting, contemplative
my choice: nervous

but what i really thought was... resentful. i definitely got the sense of unease, but my mind perceived something accusatory in her expression. i felt strongly that, while 'nervous' was the only acceptable answer, it was inadequate.

and the very last one ::

correct answer: suspicious
choices: ashamed, nervous, suspicious, indecisive
my choice: suspicious

but what i really thought was... contemptuous. this was something similar to the last one, where i picked the most negative one i could simply because nothing seemed negative enough to match the expression.

so the bottom line is that i would have done even worse if the quiz hadn't restricted me to certain answers.

this is a piece of internet frivolity, in that it doesn't obviously point to anything being terribly wrong, but it is illustrative of the sort of invisible challenges that a person who has a mental disorder [yes, although i don't talk about it in detail, i do, which is partly what spurred my interest in the subject] can face. to a very great extent, we rely on our judgments about other people to determine our own actions [whether we like to admit it or not]. going through life unable to interpret the emotions of those around us, leaves the mentally disordered in a precarious position. it's like being illiterate about other people. we can't act appropriately, because we don't know what the messages mean. as a result, life can be frightening or confusing, because things that are clear to most people [and most people score higher than i did] are opaque to those whose brains distort what their eyes see.

that's not to say that faring poorly on the test is an automatic indicator of a mental disorder. people who are disinterested or insensitive won't do well either. but there is evidence to show that those with mental disorders have an inability to "read" others that interferes with their ability to interact with them. the moist poignant examples of this are people with autism spectrum disorders, who struggle to place human actions in context, often becoming distracted by extraneous objects, not realising what information human expressions- aside from their words- are trying to convey.

[note :: i'm avoiding an obvious point of contention with this study, which is that the results could be tainted by the viewers impressions of caucasians, since all the faces are clearly caucasian. but i appreciate the fact that all the faces are from a single race, that of the majority in canada and the plurality in the united states, so that issues of mood recognition don't become confused with issues of racism. i'd love to try the same exercise with all southeast asian, all hispanic or all african faces.]

Comments

Martin Rouge said…
Actually, I do believe that all of those faces are from celebrities, in some fashion or other, one of which I'm pretty certain is Aleister Crowley. Overall, I score 25, but that's mostly because I second-guessed myself. I find that sort of quizz about as accurate to determine someone's mood as IQ tests are at determining intelligence. While there certainly are several indicators of emotional states in the eyes and surrounding facial landscape, the whole face, the demeanor in general will provide a more complete assessment of their current and short term moods.
Kate MacDonald said…
Interesting that you thought it was celebrities, but no, the photos were developed to be a set of "generic" faces by a professor at Cambridge.

Completely agree with you on the question of eyes seen out of context, but I find that my results are reasonably accurate- I do have difficulty reading people's emotions and identifying reactions.

The average score on this is apparently 26, although I'm not clear on whether that was because most people scored around a 26, or that scores were all over the place and that just happened to be the number at the centre of it all.

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