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  • Writer's picturePunit Gajera

Don’t Focus on the Most Expressive Face in the Audience

Updated: Jan 11, 2021

Imagine yourself pitching an idea to a group of people or attended Seminar/workshop or speaking something at Networking Event. As you speak, you quickly scan the audience, your attention jumping from face to face. Are people smiling? Or do they look confused, bored, maybe even angry?

Facial expressions plays important clues about people’s emotions. it also known as "universal language of emotions". At networking event whether you’re a new or you are junior employee or chief executive office, making second judgments about how your audience is feeling is a critically important skill. But even the most emotionally intelligent among us can struggle to understand exactly how these second judgments are made, and more importantly, whether or not they are accurate. And this becomes even more complicated when you start trying to read expression of not just in a single person, but in a group of people.

Research shows that when looking at a group, people tend to focus on faces expressing stronger emotions - whether those emotions are positive or negative - and pay less attention to faces conveying less intense emotions.

In the context of speaking in group of people, this attention bias can shape speakers’ impressions of how they’re being received: since people pay more attention to their more-emotionally-expressive audience members, they tend to conclude that an audience’s overall reaction is more intense than it actually is. To better understand how these biases there are many research happens and it find that participants consistently overestimated the emotionality of the groups.

That give us two interesting new results:

First, the larger the group, the more our participants overestimated its emotional state. Because the degree of emotionality was randomly distributed among the faces, larger groups had a greater likelihood of containing highly emotional faces than smaller groups did. And since peoples’ attention tends to get stuck on those highly emotional faces, they ended up rating the larger groups as more emotional on average.

Second, participants’ overestimation of groups’ emotions was slightly greater for negative expressions, such as anger, than it was for positive expressions, such as happiness. This research suggests that people’s attention is naturally drawn more to faces expressing negative emotions than to faces conveying positive ones, add on to that this effect holds for groups as well as for individuals.

But interestingly, Focusing on emotional faces tends to overly amplify our perceptions of a group’s emotionality, intentionally scanning more evenly across both emotional and non-emotional faces may lead to a more accurate perception of your audience. We also suspect that the tendency to amplify strong emotional responses may be especially salient in virtual contexts, since you may be even more likely to miss weaker emotional signals on a screen than in person.

So next time you go anywhere in networking event/seminar/workshop as speaker/presenter or you pitch an idea or giving presentation to client, give a talk, or even just enter a room and start getting a sense of the atmosphere, try actively looking at everyone, rather than letting your focus get drawn to just one or two highly emotional faces. While it won’t completely eradicate your natural attention biases, it should leave you with a more accurate estimation of how your audience really feels.

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