Sunday, October 21, 2012

Nonverbal Communication Analysis # 2159:
Tom Hanks drops the F-bomb on GMA -
Body Language of Fear, Surprise, MAPs and a Bitter Smile

Everyone loves Tom Hanks. In this CNN Video recapping a portion of his interview on Good Morning America shown on 19 October 2012 there are some great nonverbal displays. These facial expressions are so evanescent (particularly the best examples) that you may need several attempts to pause at the best split second marks.

At 0:01, CNN anchor Christi Paul gives us a great fear expression. Paul's emotional display is probably due to her painful memories of having committed (or witnessing) similar faux pas - and thus she has a good deal of empathy for Hanks and GMA interviewer, Elizabeth Vargas. Note Christi Paul's neck. The contraction of the thin superficial neck muscle (platysma) gives her neck a "tented-up" appearance. Sometimes this neck-tenting is the primary nonverbal display of this emotion. It is often missed and is a very reliable body language fear-tell (even at the poker table).

Paul's eyes also briefly open in a "white and wide" manner - which is also very consistent with the emotional of fear (it also occurs with surprise and severe anger - aka rage).

Christi's eyebrows (both) also elevate and the upper portion of her forehead muscle contracts. Her lower forehead doesn't contract and her eyebrows don't pull together (normally seen in fear) due to OnabotulinumtoxinA injection (aka Botox) - (which she clearly doesn't really need). Botox usage detracts from full human expression and therefore the display of emotions as well as the feedback and counter-feedback we need to fully communicate.

Lastly, Paul's mouth takes on the classic fear expression with tightly and laterally pulled lips, open mouth, teeth closed and nearly always (as is exampled here) the lower teeth more exposed than her upper ones. Notice also the characteristic gasp-hiss sound as air is inhaled (deep inhalation is also a signal of fear) though her closed mouth.

Now look at Tom Hanks and Elizabeth Vargas at the 0:28 mark. After Hanks swears, they both rapidly lean forward and cover their mouths. The rapidity with which this occurs is strongly suggestive of a sincere mistake - and it almost seems as if they are trying to put the word(s) back into their (Hanks') mouth. They are both quite surprised because - Hanks slipped into character so completely (method acting, Stanislavsky method) - and as he said he's never committed this mistake on live T.V. This is also one signal of embarrassment (in addition to his blushing at 0:34) - and interestingly is seen more often in individuals with higher empathy quotients. Both of their eye lids open widely as is seen with both fear and surprise (both of which are present here) as well as rage/extreme anger (which is not present in either) - which is very brief in both, but more short lived in Hanks. Surprise is the most evanescent of all emotions and is nearly always rapidly replaced by a second (or third) emotion - here by fear and embarrassment. Note how Hanks goes on to display facial MAPs (Manipulators, Adaptors, Pacifiers) of rubbing his mustache and chin for several seconds as well as a mouth cover - body language signals which betrays his significant anxiety, embarrassment and self-anger (see below).

During the 0:49 - 0:50 segment, we see Tom Hanks compress his lips as they stretch horizontally into a thin line. This is a highly reliable signal of anger (Hanks is angry at himself here). Just as this video blends into a view of his apology-tweet, we see the corners of his mouth turn downward in a "bitter smile". This incredibly interesting nonverbal phenomenon is a common and fantastic example of just how we (even the two-time Academy Award winners among us) are not nearly so aware of our own facial expressions and body language displays as we think we are when we are experiencing strong emotions - particularly negative ones. For when this "bitter smile" is being made, Tom Hanks and all the rest of us believe we are making a slight (albeit tight) social smile. Tom is better than most perhaps - but his mouth still takes on the configuration of a frown.