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3/ Making Faces at Emotionally Intelligent Machines
A lot of awkwardness arises from misreading other people’s emotions. Was it a smile or a smirk? Was the smile friendly or flirty?
Our faces sometimes do betray us by showing the real emotions, and if other people are emotionally intelligent – they will notice. Machines will soon learn to do it even better. There’s only one problem with this concept: people don’t consistently show emotions in the same manner, nor their brains consistently generate the same emotions. In other words, it’s probably possible to read people – sometimes, and with a fair degree of error. The perception of an emotion says nothing about the process of production of said emotion.
It’s usually possible to guess the emotional state of another person – but it will remain a guess.
Sadness is an emotion most people recognise when they see someone’s sad face. OK, but the score is much lower for more serious concepts like guessing someone’s perception of self-worth. The longer couples have been together – the more confident of their guesses they become, but the quality of the guesses doesn’t improve with time.
Emotions are less predictable than one would expect. There are no consistent patterns matching physiological responses to discrete emotions. (quote) For example, the amygdala is not always fired when a person experiences fear.
To state the obvious, context matters when reading emotions. In other words, faces alone can’t speak for themselves: feelings happen without expressions and expressions happen without feelings.
They are not the reflection of things that happen to us. They are the things our brain creates. They are the brain’s way of making sense of the physical feelings.
We learn some emotions (like being sad when something bad happens). [MK: I’d argue that compassion is a built-in emotion that can be successfully, but unfortunately suppressed over time.]
Knowing the concept for an emotion makes the emotion stronger. This requires some explanation: once the brain knows the building blocks for a situation, it readily generates a matching emotion. For example, there’s a Danish word hygge. Imagine the setup when it’s cold outside, warm inside, there’s good food (and drinks) and a few good friends or family around you. It’s cozy and it’s very pleasant. And once you start recognising this setup, this fires a corresponding emotion that’s more intense than if it happened unconsciously. [MK: I’d say that it’s easy to get emotionally hooked up on situations or people + situations, so beware.]
Emotions can be looked at more granularly (not sad, but devastated, crushed, gloomy, etc.). The concept [MK: which seems to be kinda close to the concept that words create reality and not the other way around] is that better recognising a specific subtype of an emotion in oneself helps better recognising it in others, too, since there are more options to choose from. (the term is emotional granularity)
Anxiety reappraisal is a mental trick a person can play on themselves to reframe the feeling of being nervous to being excited. It’s the same feeling and the same hormones hit our systems, so saying to oneself “I am excited” reduces the negative emotional intensity of awkwardness. [MK: the way I understand the author’s point is that certain kinds of procrastination caused by mental or physical energy-intensive activities can also be “cured” by exciting oneself about the prospects of engaging into these challenging tasks. I’m yet to try it, but in all honesty, it sounds too simple to be true.]
For better or for worse, looking at oneself via others’ eyes can make one look silly and unsophisticated, but this has to be done nonetheless.