Sunday, July 16, 2006

Angry Faces

What an angry face this little baby has, wouldn't you agree?

An article from the June 2006 journal of Current Biology supports research on how angry facial expressions are a priority when visually processing aspects in our world.

We are instinctually wired to be attuned to threatening faces in our environment. In fact, there are specific brain regions that are dedicated to processing threatening facial expressions.

In evolutionary terms, knowing what was dangerous helped our ancestors to survive. Psychologically speaking, sensing the threat set into motion a variety of defenses that enabled our ancestors to move through the emotional experience of danger.

We still rely on this wiring today. When we see the angry boss coming or view a threatening situation, our defensive strategies are activated. If danger can be seen, we can respond.

But, sadly, there are many times that we don't see the danger coming. Our visual scanning doesn't pick up the angry face because it is masked. We don't see the dangerous person that lingers underneath the non-threatening face. We are simply not wired for that.

The best we can do when we are confronted with a wolf in sheep's clothing is to get out of harm's way as fast as possible - with no self-blame or self-reproach.

Now, back to this angry face...I wonder what made this little baby so mad?

Williams, M. & Mattingley, J.B. (2006) Do angry men get noticed? Current Biology, 16, R402-R404.


Dreaming again said...

whoa! you hit me close to home. Since I tend to wear masks to cover negative emotions (I must be Perky Peggi ..ya know?)

I once had a friend who said her greatest fear for her in friendships was that she would offend me, hurt me or make me angry .. because she knew she'd never know it.

At the time, I took that as a compliment ... I know now, it was a fear of hers that my emotions were too deep and that there would be chinks in our friendship without her knowing about it, to help repair those chinks.

Sarebear said...

OhmyGosh! That photo is SO CUTE!!!

Some might wonder, what??? But I LOVE the expressiveness there, even if it's not a happy smiley face! SO CUTE!!! What a personality that baby must have!

Seems to me, for a baby, it's got to be a very basic need or want, that's making him angry. A bottle of drink picked up when he was about to go over to it, perhaps . . . !

Myself, I am very hypervigilant, so I pick up on alot of cues, even when people are hiding (perhaps subconsciously) or supressing anger and other negative enotions. Course, I sometimes "see" more than is there, but FREQUENTLY I see the accuracy of what someone is feeling much much more than other people. I guess a lifetime of hypervigilance will do that.

For myself, I tend to have a mask on when angry and such. I feel like my face BECOMES a mask (not literally a mask, but feels something other than ME) when I'm like that. I guess cause the emotions are so intense and scary. It's like I can't integrate the emotion with my sense of self.

Hrm. This may be some good stuff to bring up in therapy in a few days, although if you see my recent blog post, there's probably far more pressing matters, this week . . . lol!

Anonymous said...

Then again, there's that "feeling" about things. Maybe that helps us recognize that "wolf" sometimes.

mysti said...

Thank you for saying that. I think we do take blame for situations we feel we should have seen, when in fact there was nothing to see, because the person is sooo good at masking who they are!

Anonymous said...

I agree with sarebear; that baby is really cute!

I also have the hypervigilance issue, and I have a variety of masks that I wear to fit different contexts so people won't notice that I'm actually not there. It's not a foolproof system, but it works well enough.

Angel Chasse said...

Hey Dr Deb....

Thought provoking for sure. I think that many people I am around are "brought up" to mask any strong emotion..anger..fear and the like.. so I would say that our defenses don't go up nearly enough... evolution... quite the study... we have told our men that it isn't ok to cry, told girls that they "must act like a lady at all times". I, for one, am VERY VERY glad that these teachings are falling by the wayside somewhat!!

Thanks for posting this :)

Angel Chasse (again)

Dr. Deborah Serani said...

Dear Dreaming,
I think your insight is very meaningful.

Dear Sarebear,
I loved this photo of this baby when I saw it. I knew I would find good use for it in a post.

Dear Tiesha,
"That Feeling" is our instincts letting us know something is not right. We need to listen to those instincts in spite of the fact that what we see in front of us is "not threatening".

Dear Mysti,
I hope that blaming oneself for "not knowing" can be minimized. So often, I work with people who say
"I should've known..."
But I tell them "No one could know until the veil is lifted."

We have power in what we can do AFTER a threat is known. But beforehand, it can be a slippery slope.

Dear Anon,
Wearing masks is generally not a great thing. I always hope that authenticity can show through no matter the situation.

Dear Angel,
The more we break stereotypes, the better things can get. It is hard to show your true self sometimes, but striving for authenticity is a great goal.

PS: 97 here today.


Id it is said...

What happens when everyone dons a mask to hide their anger or any other negative emotion they may be experiencing. That's a scary situation! With no perceived threat, our defences would be down, and we'd suffer as a result. This could be threatening wouldn't you agree?

healthpsych said...

I LOVE that photo!

We're sort of conditioned to mask some of our less positively emotions though. Expression of feelings such as anger etc. can be negatively received and so we downplay or hide them altogether.
So, when we're interacting with people, often we can never be sure we're getting the real deal. This is where I am a big fan of intuition or the 'gut feeling' - helped me out on numerous occasions.

Beachwriter said...

What about a mask of narcissism? I would love to see a post or article in this blog about narcissism. How does one deal with that? And how does a parent seek for help when they feel their child is narcisstict? Now, that is a "mask" to reckon with.

I am now reading "People of the Lie" by M. Scott Peck. A great read, but somewhat controversial.

Great blog and wonderful information.

Clare said...

I think that baby looks really scary not cute :).

Andrew said...

Wow! I wouldn't have believed that such a young face could express such venom. Anger, yes, but that expression is extraordinary. Certainly we are all attuned to the expressions of those we are closest to, like our spouses.

Alison said...

After spending most of the weekend marvelling at my 6 week old great-niece, this picture fits in nicely. Babies and kids are so much about 'what you see is what you get'. It's a shame so many lose that honesty in self-expression. But it also explains why so many of us love working with kids!

Psych Pundit said...


Interestingly enough, when people are depressed, a key region of the brain that helps us interpret facial emotion and other nonverbals goes relatively dormant (the right parietal cortex). This helps explain why depressed individuals often have such difficulty navigating the social landscape.

Thanks for the great pic!

- Psych Pundit

jumpinginpuddles said...

because people mask anger so well it can be the most destructive of emotions. I think it is also the way we ahve been brought up, two things are often taught to children dont get angry and dont cry.
Often we have caught ourselves stopping saying the dont get angry at me stance, and replacing it with gee your angry how can we find a way other than kicking a wall to get that anger out.
Mind you great for our kids and sh*t for us, we dont do anger well and its the scariest of emotions.
Maybe if soieciety taught people that its ok to be angry and to say it instead of being angry and doing it we might be in a different place.
And i think the babys angry because he/she has older brothers and sisters and they are annoying them :P

east village idiot said...

That's why I don't like the look of Dick Cheney. He seems angry to me...or maybe just evil

Anonymous said...

We are programmed to mask our emotions aren't we? I was trained so well as a child that I'm 40 and only now learning to recognize the damn things! That baby's facial expression is amazing. I don't know if it looks angry or not but I'll bet the sound that went with the look told a much louder tale! Someone else commented about being hypervigilant...I am extremely so. I can "feel" when people are angry or any other strong emotion. It's good and yet sometimes it can be very ummm... unsettling.

Precisiongirl said...

Maybe the baby's parents are on Atkins and there are no sugary treats in the house for him...

Meow said...

Hi Deb, great post again !! You sure do share some interesting stuff !!
Just wanted to say thanks for the postcard, which arrived today. It sure is a beauty !!
I have posted it on my Postcard Blog, and will mention it on tomorrow's post on my main blog.
Thanks again.
Take care, Meow

PalmTreeChick said...

That picture kind of cracks me up. I don't know why, but it does. I didn't think a baby could make that face.

Godwhacker said...

I find those who learn to override the wiring of natural facial expression even more scary ~ the cliche' of "killing with a smile".

Wanda's Wings said...

Thank you so much for letting me know that we can not always see what is coming. I know I don't always "see" people for who they really are until I'm out on the deep end being pulled under. I tend not to trust people at all, or I fall blindly into someones lines! I'm glad to know it not just me!
The baby sure had something to say didn't he!

Ian Lidster said...

Thought-provoking piece, Deb. Of course masks are the means by which scam artists and even psychopaths can carry out their nasty deeds. "How could she have done that? She seemed so nice." I used to have an internal maxim that worked more often than it didn't If on the first day of a new job a boss comes across as a really good guy, genial and welcoming, never trust him. He'll be a sonofabitch. On the other hand, if the new boss is Mr. Grumpy, then that is who he is, and he isn't going to change and blindside you. Much food for thought here.
Cheers, Ian

Bougie said...

I think alot of people misread my facial expression, I got it from my mom. Smiles just doen't naturally appears on my face I have to make them stay even though I'm usually smiling on the inside.

That baby is too cute even with that angry face. Awwwww.

Dawn said...

oh geeze-that baby is angry.

now, if humans were only equipped with steam that could arise from our heads, like in cartoons, we'd be good.

Fallen Angels said...

I wonder if the specific brain regions that are dedicated to processing threatening facial expressions get damaged during child abuse. Some abuse survivors see danger everwhere and others never see it at all....there seems to be very little middle ground in that.


Anonymous said...

ySera, according to Pollak & Kistler, 2002, physically abused children more readily perceive anger in digitally created facial expressions that evenly mix anger with fear or sadness. So experience does play a role in which emotions we are sensitized to and how we perceive danger signals.

Dr. Deb said, "Wearing masks is generally not a great thing." Why not? All of us show different sides of ourselves (or different selves altogether) in different situations. I am a different person around my friends than around my superiors. It's protective and essential to develop fa├žades; genuineness becomes a continuum, not a category with definitive boundaries. And as long as nobody ever figures out I'm faking it, what could be the harm?

There are a lot of comments here relating to evolutionary predispositions vs. experience and conditioning. The former has wired us to perceive threats; the latter has taught us that certain threatening emotions are unacceptable to show. This is great. All the world's a stage. We might as well be wearing real masks.

Anonymous said...

Why is there a "y" at the beginning of my comment? Sheesh. I should proofread. Sorry about that.

Dr. Deborah Serani said...

Dear Id It Is,
Being authentic is a goal, but it is hard to be that way for many. I guess it would cause chaos if we always wore masks.

Dear Healthpsych,
Intuition and the gut are SO important! I agree with you.

Dear BEachwriter,
I wrote a little bit about narcissism with my James Frey post, but I will do a more general one. Good idea. It is very hard to get a narcissistic person into therapy. If your child won't go into therapy, I always suggest that a parent go to learn techniques etc. Give that a try.

Dear Clare,
I think that baby has GREAT emotions! It looks to me like it could be a girl baby (the sleeves on the shirt look feminine to me). I can see how it can be scary to see that little face like that!

Dear Andrew,
I agree that picture is expressive. Some couples are very attuned to their spouse, that's true.

Dear Alison,
You are right, what you see IS what you get with babies. It is a shame that some of that gets chipped away as life takes it's course!

Dear Psychpundit,
I didn't know that. I love blogging for this very reason - the sharing of information. Thanks for the insight!

Dear JIP,
Anger and many of the other negative emotions are taboo, you are right. I hope that as we evolve as a species we can allow for better communication and acceptance of those emotions.

Dear EVI,

Dear Traci,
I am hypervigilant as well, and I go with my gut a lot of the time. Some times I am wrong, but I'd rather be surprised that way, than the other way. I really do wonder what was going on with that baby. Oh, what an expressive face!

Dear Precision Girl,
LOL, that's funny. I was thinking diaper rash, but yours is more witty.

Dear Meow,
Hooray, it arrived!

Dear PAlmtree,
I found the photo both funny and scary.

Dear Godwhacker,
You and me both on that one!

Dear Wanda's Wings,
I think it is very important to know when you are unduly chastizing yourself. Some people do it too much, while others don't assume responsibility at all. I just want people to know that a wolf is hard to see!

Dear Ian,
Thanks for sharing those insightful thoughts.

Dear T~Bou,
My hubby has a stern facial expression a lot of the time too. It isn't an intentional thing. He gets miffed when others think he looks angry or annoyed when he is really quite contented within. I love this baby and her expression too.

Dear Dawn,
Yup, I think that's be great too. I'd have steam coming outta my ears and the top of my head would pop off. That would make for great added drama to the emotions!

Dear Fallen,
In fact, it IS true!

Dear Anaon,
Wow, you have the citation. You totally rock. I am different with many people as well, but I like to think I am different in an authentic way.

PS: Typos aren't an issue when blogging!


princessdominique said...

That is a mad baby. I wonder what made him/her so mad too. A sound perhaps?

Greg P said...

If you take this to the other extreme of life, you see old people who can one moment be venomously hostile, yet when distracted have a sudden disconnect, and "forget" all about the "anger" as if it never happened.

Things are not always what they seem. So perhaps with this baby.

Nancy said...

I can relate to how that baby feels, looking at his face. I think I have not been masking my anger either, perhaps not to that extent. I am just fed up with annoying people who don't do their jobs or pay attention, are incosiderate, etc. I find it harder to smile and just chill these days. Could be the heat. Hmmm.


Crazy In Shreveport said...

My husband and daughter are both bipolar and I think they have a knack for picking out that wolf in sheep's clothing. It's just something I've observed in the two of them.

Sunnie Dee said...

I was once told by someone that I was the most unchanging person they know emotionally simply because at that time I really did have a good mask, no matter what emotion I felt it was the same mask. Added to this the childhood learning of anger is bad, crying is bad, everything but smile and be nice is bad, its hard now to show emotions and in fact I struggle with recognising emotions in others sometimes

Nancy said...

Every time I look at that baby's face, I laugh. The anger is unbelievable, it sort of reminds me of a former co worker.
I think I would rather deal with the a person knowing they were angry, rather than the person who is the sheep in the wolves clothes.

Fallen Angels said...

I'm with Nancy...I'd rather know someone was angry then to not know...of course I tend to suspect everyone is angry. :P

CrackerLilo said...

This probably accounts for many an online flame war--there's no way to see or hear the signs of anger!

Dr. Deborah Serani said...

Dear Princess,
I'm with you on wondering too?

Dear Greg P,
Interesting point.

Dear Nancy,
The older I get the more I look like this baby when dealing with people. I have low tolerance for bad service and insensitivity too.

Dear Crazy,
Many individuals with heightened awareness can pick up on these cues, you are right.

Dear Sonnie,
It is hard when we are reared to believe that only certain emotions are acceptable. It makes it hard because a lot in life requires us to be angry, sad, mad etc.

Dear Nancy,
There is preditcability when someone is constantly angry or moody. There is security in knowing that. I agree, I'd rather know someone is bitchy, or angry etc because it is easier to deal with it than an unpredictable person.

Dear Fallen,
I think many would agree with us on that.

Dear Crackerlilo,
Yup, you are righ!


alan said...

Your comment to "Mysti" really hits home for me; I've spent a lot of years blaming myself for things, or trying to figure out how I caused them...


kath said...

What I wonder is if some people are just born angry... and if this baby's face will be there more often as she grows older..

I think that photo is scary..............

chucky101 said...

I must say i really doubted the impact on children is so big. Of course, I'm not a doctor/psychologist, but I was really amazed readijng this article. However, i've also started a quit smoking and stop smoking page. Hope you can obtain some interesting info there too

Single Ma said...

Even with the mean mug, that baby is sooo cute. LOL

My facial expression rarely changes. People always think I'm angry, even when I'm not. I just have a very blank look that only varies in extreme circumstances. I'm weird.

Playground in my Mind said...

I love this picture:) Many masks...but they get fewer each year...I wonder what life will be like without a mask:) Renee

kath said...

single ma...
i wish i had your problem...

no one ever has to wonder what i am thinking.. if i don't tell them outright ( yikes) my face shows it.. people have mentioned to me many times,,,

Dr. Deborah Serani said...

Dear Alan,
It is so helpful to take away Self-Blame. So good that you are doing that.

Dear Kathy,
Temperment is genetic, so I guess you could say that some people are born angry.

Dear Chucky,
Early history impacts us greatly.

Dear Singla Ma,
My hubby is that way too. He does not have alot of breadth with facial expressions.

Dear Renee,
I think it would be a very blunt, yet honest world.

Dear Kath,
I'm like you. YOu can see what's there easily.


Kuan Gung said...

I encounter, "the fade" a lot. The face of their life fixed in a sense that reflects the begining of the slow dosing of that sacred fire within. As "the fade" enters the latter stages, the body reflects the neglect in distortions of ill health and the face becomes more firmly fixed with the remorse...the complete diconnect from the soul...I've noticed "the Fade" increasing as I people watch on my journey with great dismay...every so often there's an encounter with the sparkle in the eye, the contentment, the courageous walk...the fire ablaze, however, they seem few now a days. My ventures shopping at times, is like "Night of the Living Dead"...a lot of empty shells walking around out there, leaves swept away by the wind...thank you

Kim said...

He was trying to use Blogger? I made that face a few times.....

Wendy C. said...

That Baby's face just cracks me up!!!!

Dr. Deborah Serani said...

Dear Kuan,
I can understand that.

Dear Kim,
Blogger has been so awful lately. I have been making that face and then some :)

Dear Wendy,
Isn't it amazing how expressive she is?? I loved it when I first saw it. Still do.