Reading Emotions: Discomfort

How to read the feeling of discomfort in facial expressions and body language

In the last blog we looked at more than one emotion on the face (Disbelief/Irritation). This week one overwhelming and strong emotion is showing through: discomfort.

Benjamin is watching a somewhat controversial TV ad and although he sits quite still we can see several signs which point to his discomfort.

He takes a deep breath and quickly shifts the direction of his gaze, attempting not to focus too sharply on what he’s been asked to watch. He breathes out and closes his eyes for a second (too long to be a blink) in an effort to shut out the scene on the TV.

When we look at something which we find disturbing (or even think of something we find uncomfortable) we often close our eyes, as if that will give us a moment of respite.

Benjamin continues watching, but with a blank stare, his mouth tightly closed.

Signs to note

  • an unfocused gaze
  • a deep intake of breath
  • he blinks with discomfort
  • closes his eyes
  • continues watching with a blank look

By John Habershon

Reading Emotions: Confusion

Carrie is more than puzzled by the question she has just been asked; she is confused.

Her eyes give away her feelings of confusion in different ways.

Firstly, there is a lack of focus as she looks into the middle distance trying to find an answer.
Secondly, there are several changes in direction as she looks up and down, racking her brain for a response. This lack of focus and rapid change in the direction of the gaze is always a sign of mental struggle, discomfort or even distress.

She also wrinkles her nose and brow.

Carrie’s mouth shows her exasperation. She closes her mouth tightly, holds her breath and pushes her lips forward.

Signs to note

  • gazes into the middle distance
  • wrinkles her mouth and nose
  • rapid change of the direction of her gaze
  • narrows her eyes
  • blinks
  • closes her lips and pushes them forward

By John Habershon

Reading Emotions: Concentration

How can we tell when someone is thinking hard about a question?

There are some simple signs when a person’s mind is really working – when a problem holds their attention completely. It takes effort, and we often see this in movement in the mouth and the brow.

Amanda is looking directly at John, but we can see by her gaze that her brain is fully engaged. As she reflects on the question, she glances away and then back. The combination of working her mouth, and her steady gaze shows she is completely absorbed in thinking about the issue.

She also nods to indicate that she is considering the question carefully.

Signs to note

  • a steady gaze
  • compresses her lips and pulls mouth to the side
  • shifts gaze briefly to the side
  • chews her lip
  • nods

By John Habershon

Reading Emotions: Boredom

We can see that Laura is not interested in the statement she is reading. Her gaze is unfocused, her eyes look blank. She’s zoning out.

But she is not just uninterested. She finds the idea on the page boring, which we see from her compressed lips and the downturned corners of her mouth.

Boredom is closely related to tedium, the repetition of something which holds little interest. We all want our minds to be stimulated. Sometimes things can be too predictable and we just want to move on to something else. She looks away, having had enough.

Signs to note

  • compressed mouth with downturned corners
  • blank eyes
  • blinking
  • unfocused gaze
  • looking away

By John Habershon

Reading Emotions: Awkwardness

Awkwardness is about feeling a little unsure, suddenly feeling self-conscious. We can see the signs in the way Evan moves his body and avoids eye contact.

He is talking about something quite personal, which makes him feel rather uncomfortable.

There is a defensiveness about his posture, resting his chin on his fist, partially covering his mouth, looking away and then rubbing his eye nervously.

Reading Emotions: Glee

The dictionary defines glee as:

great delight, especially from one’s own good fortune’

Lindsay has just been asked about a household brand. By coincidence, the makers had only recently given her exceptionally good service, replacing an expensive part at no cost.

She is more than just pleased, she is delighted – and it shows in her body movement. Glee often involves an element of a really nice surprise.

Reading Emotions: Frustration

Often in life things don’t go the way we want them to, whether it’s people who don’t cooperate or just objects, like printers that don’t work just when we really need them to print off an urgent document. When these obstacles seem unreasonable, or illogical, after several tries to make it work . . . so frustrating! So how can we recognize frustration in another person?

Holly is talking about something she’s trying to do, but hasn’t succeeded with so far. We can see signs of pent up anger as she describes her frustrating experience. She shakes her head rapidly from side to side and her gaze shifts restlessly to her left, to John, and then away again. Her gaze at John is direct and her eyes widen to show her surprise.

Reading Emotions: Excitement

How can we tell the difference between someone simply enjoying something, on the one hand, and getting excited by it, on the other?

The answer lies in the movement of the body.

 

The way Lisa smiles as she talks about this exciting topic, tells us that she is experiencing pleasure. But the way she can’t keep still shows her excitement.

Reading Emotions: Enjoyment

Take a look at Laura watching one of her favourite TV ads. How can we tell she’s enjoying it?

She’s smiling, not just in a quick and fleeting way, but with a sustained and relaxed smile on her lips.

When people are experiencing pleasure we see the eyes widen. Laura is looking at the screen with wide open eyes – she wants to take in as much information as she can.

She’s looking intently at the screen, something we can see from the focus in her eyes. This is not something which she is just mildly interested in. It has her full attention.