Exercises for Expressing Emotion

Written Exercise: Inferring Emotion

Given their situation and the description of their behaviors, what emotion is the named person likely to be feeling? (There may be multiple people in the scenario, but we’ve given only one person a name. Just for fun, all the names start with J.)


Julia is sitting alone in a restaurant. She had been intermittently looking around and playing with her silverware. Now, though, she just keeps looking down at her plate. Her lips are curved slightly up, but if you look closely, you can see that her eyelids are drooping and her lips are trembling.


Julia was (impatiently) waiting for someone (a date?) to arrive. Now, she seems sad (and perhaps embarrassed, and perhaps trying to hide these emotions). The most likely explanation is that she has decided that the person she was waiting for is not coming; she has been stood up.


At the end of class, the student next to Jake turns to him and says, “Did I miss something? Did she say what the assignment was for next time? Or isn’t there one?” Jake rolls his eyes and says “I don’t know why you bother coming to class if you’re not going to listen.”


First of all, Jake is astoundingly rude (unless the two are good friends, which the scenario does not tell us)! Rolling of the eyes is a well-known signal of annoyance, as is Jake’s scolding (which seems to put him above the other student). We don’t know why he’s so annoyed, since the other student has merely asked a simple question, but it seems likely that this is a regular occurrence and that Jake has simply lost patience over time.


In the middle of playing XBox (complete with rowdy trash-talking), Jebediah’s friend says “Oh, hey, man, I can’t remember if I told you or not, but I’m meeting my girlfriend downtown in an hour, so I’m going to have to get going pretty soon.” Jebediah says quietly (with no particular emphasis, energy, or expression), “Oh. Cool. That’s cool, man. No problem. Don’t worry about it. Tell her I say hi.”


Jebediah likely feels hurt (and sad), but is trying to express this in a very muted way in order to keep the friendship. (Most people understand that romantic relationships usually take precedence over friendships, and we know that if we try to “compete” with the romantic partner, we may lose our friend altogether, so we play down the feelings of abandonment we feel.) Still, if he didn’t want his friend to know that he’s a little hurt, he would have smiled and spoken with feeling. He also essentially said it was okay four times; the redundancy of this is remarkable, and leads to the inference that he “doth protest too much” (that he does not believe what he is saying).


Jasmine is waiting for her latte (to go) at the crowded coffee shop. A man stands very close to her and she moves slightly away from him, crossing her arms. He says “You never know, with this place. Sometimes they’re so quick, and sometimes they take forever!” Jasmine’s ¬†lips curve up briefly (but no lines appear around her eyes) and looks away.


By moving away from the man and crossing her arms, Jasmine shows that she is uncomfortable with the man’s proximity. By not engaging in conversation (not responding, looking away), she shows that she doesn’t wish to be social. Complete failure to acknowledge that the man had spoken would be rude, but the social (not genuine) smile is the most minimal response she could have given. She likely feels embarrassed as well as uncomfortable.


Jessica has just run into her ex-boyfriend on the street. He says “How’s you been doing?” She stands stiffly without answering for a second, then says “I’m sorry, I don’t really have time to catch up right now. I’m late for an appointment.” Her voice is tense and tight.


She’s clearly not happy to see him (she’s not really “sorry,” and it may not even be true that she doesn’t have the time to talk to him). The “freezing up” and tense voice are classic signs of fear. ¬†(We don’t know why she’s scared of him.)




Mirroring Exercise
(after you’ve done the photo, audio & video exercises)

With a confederate, listen to and/or watch the clips on the audio & video exercise pages. For each one, mirror the appropriate emotion on your face as you listen and/or watch. Does your confederate think your expression is appropriate, in response to the emotion expressed in the clip? When you feel comfortable with this exercise, try doing it with earbuds in, so your confederate can neither hear the clip nor see the screen, and see if the confederate can guess which expression you were trying to mirror.