Angry faces back up verbal threats, making them seem more credible

June 9, 2014
Angry faces back up verbal threats, making them seem more credible

We've all been on the receiving end of an angry glare, whether from a teacher, parent, boss, or significant other. These angry expressions seem to boost the effectiveness of threats without actual aggression, according to research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

The research findings show that angry expressions lend additional weight to a negotiator's threat to walk away from the table if his or her demands aren't met, leading the other party in the negotiation to offer more money than they otherwise would have.

"Our facial expressions are relatively more difficult to control than our words," says psychological scientist Lawrence Ian Reed, first author on the research. Because they're harder to control, these expressions serve as a believable outward indication of a person's motivations.

"In this way, facial expressions can carry the weight of our words," says Reed.

Each party involved in a negotiation goes in with the aim of getting exactly what they want, but they also have a vested interest in making sure that their demands are seen as credible so that the talks don't fall apart.

Reed and colleagues Peter DeScioli of Stony Brook University and Steven Pinker of Harvard University hypothesized that angry expressions may lend this credibility, helping to back up negotiators' threats to walk away from the table if they don't receive what they want. But, they hypothesized, expressions of anger wouldn't lend additional credibility to demands that already seem fair (e.g., a 50-50 split).

In a study conducted online, 870 participants were told that they would be playing a negotiation game in which some participants, acting as the "proposer," would decide how to split a sum of $1.00 with another participant, the "responder." Each person would receive the specified sum if the responder accepted the split that was offered, but neither person would receive any money if the responder rejected the split.

Before making their offers, each proposer was shown a threat that supposedly came from the responder. In reality, the responder was played by the same female actor, who was instructed to create specific facial expressions in the video clips. One clip showed her making a neutral expression, while another showed her making an angry expression.

The clips were accompanied by a written demand for either an equal cut of 50% or a larger cut of 70%, which would leave only 30% for the proposer.

After they saw the threat, the proposers were asked to state their offer.

The data revealed that the responder's facial expression did have an impact on the amount offered by the proposer, but only when the responder demanded the larger share.

That is, proposers offered more money if the responder showed an angry expression compared to when they showed a neutral expression, but only when the responder demanded 70% of the take.

Facial expression had no influence on proposers' offers when the responder demanded an equal share, presumably because the demand was already viewed as credible.

Interestingly, proposers offered greater amounts in response to angry compared to neutral expressions even when they were told that they belonged to a "typical responder," rather than their specific partner.

The researchers were surprised at how robust the effect was, despite the experimental setting:

"We created our anger expression by filming a deliberately posed expression rather than a spontaneously emitted one," says Reed. "We were surprised to find that the expression had an effect even though it was literally faked."

The findings, Reed argues, have broad relevance to all kinds of negotiations:

"The idea that bargaining offers are mediated in part by emotions and motivations speaks towards the importance of emotions and their expression in any bargaining situation. These include not only the division of resources, but also in buying a car or house, and/or disciplining students or children."

Explore further: 'Let it go,' but not in the boardroom: How facial expressions affect cooperation

More information: Paper: pss.sagepub.com/content/early/ … 97614531027.abstract

Related Stories

'Let it go,' but not in the boardroom: How facial expressions affect cooperation

April 29, 2014
While Disney's Frozen Academy Award-winning diva anthem "Let It Go" has dominated the Billboard 200, sales records and parents' eardrums with its message of all-out emotional display, that approach probably won't always resonate ...

Ability to recognise expression tied to listening and emotion

January 6, 2014
West Australian researchers have developed two new tests that examine a typical person's ability to recognise basic facial expressions.

Changing expressions to appear more trustworthy, dominant or attractive

May 16, 2014
(Medical Xpress)—If you have one of those faces that people just don't trust, fear not: according to scientists, you can pull an expression that will make you appear more honest.

Determination might be a very human expression

March 6, 2014
Humans might be using facial expressions of determination as a call for help from others, according to new research.

Study shows attractiveness of people not dependent on facial expression

March 12, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—Researchers from the U.K.'s University of Portsmouth have conducted a study with the aim of attempting to discern if the attractiveness of a person's face is impacted by facial expression. In their paper ...

Perception of facial expressions differs across cultures

September 1, 2011
Facial expressions have been called the "universal language of emotion," but people from different cultures perceive happy, sad or angry facial expressions in unique ways, according to new research published by the American ...

Recommended for you

Communicating in a foreign language takes emotion out of decision making

August 16, 2017
If you could save the lives of five people by pushing another bystander in front of a train to his death, would you do it? And should it make any difference if that choice is presented in a language you speak, but isn't your ...

US antidepressant use jumps 65 percent in 15 years

August 15, 2017
(HealthDay)—The number of Americans who say they've taken an antidepressant over the past month rose by 65 percent between 1999 and 2014, a new government survey finds.

Child's home learning environment predicts 5th grade academic skills

August 15, 2017
Children whose parents provide them with learning materials like books and toys and engage them in learning activities and meaningful conversations in infancy and toddlerhood are likely to develop early cognitive skills that ...

Precision medicine opens the door to scientific wellness preventive approaches to suicide

August 15, 2017
Researchers have developed a more precise way of diagnosing suicide risk, by developing blood tests that work in everybody, as well as more personalized blood tests for different subtypes of suicidality that they have newly ...

Obesity and depression are entwined, yet scientists don't know why

August 15, 2017
About 15 years ago, Dr. Sue McElroy, a psychiatrist in Mason, Ohio, started noticing a pattern. People came to see her because they were depressed, but they frequently had a more visible ailment as well: They were heavy.

Givers really are happier than takers

August 15, 2017
(HealthDay)—Generosity really is its own reward, with the brain seemingly hardwired for happiness in response to giving, new research suggests.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.