Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Nonverbal Communication Analysis No. 3246: Suicide Squad - What Makes Jared Leto's Joker so Frightening? Body Language Tells (VIDEO, PHOTOS)

The trailer for "Suicide Squad" was published on YouTube yesterday. The film is due to be released on 5 August 2015. And The Joker is getting scarier and scarier. But what's the primary reason Jared Leto is so frightening? It's not his green, greasy hair (yet still a bit unnerving). It's not the metal in his mouth (though this certainly adds to his "freak factor"). It's not even his lipstick (a bit heavy though, don't you think?). It's his nonverbal signals.

What is extra creepy regarding the body language of Jared's Joker? Specifically two key components send strong signals of theatrical sickness - his widely opened eyes and their coexistence with a mouth smile.

Take detail notice of Leto's upper eyelids - they're open very wide - so widely in fact as to show the "whites of his eyes" (the sclera) between the edge of the central upper eyelids and the irises (aka irides or the colored portion of the eyes). This little strip of white is sometimes referred to as "scleral show". At physiologic and emotional baseline the margin of the upper eyelid should be ~ 2 mm below the upper margin of the iris - yet his are 1-2 mm higher (a net difference of 3-4 mm). This measurement may sound subtle, yet human brains (and many animal brains) are designed to recognize this nuance without conscious thought (though our conscious and edge-of-consciousness minds' often rationalize this warning sign away - discounting it thus adding danger and disadvantage).

What are the main emotional conditions which cause the eyes to be opened widely?

1. Mild to moderate anger the eyelids are partially closed - yet in severe to extreme anger (rage) they open widely.

2. Surprise

3. Fear

4. As form of emphasis (often an edge-of-consciousness action)

Sometimes joy-happiness follows surprise - and on such occasions a mouth smile can be seen with widely opened eyes. Also during moments of emphasis (more common in the context of melodrama, manipulation or hyperbolic personalities) the eyelids can also be open wider with mouth smiles. Yet in these scenarios the two facial components don't appear together for but short moments - ergo number five ....

5. When these two components of emotion (eyes widely opened with a mouth smile) are both seen together repeatedly or they're observed to coexist for longer durations - one should strongly suspect a sociopath (Antisocial Personality Disorder).

Another helpful way to think about this combination of facial expressions (a facial cluster) is that it feels contradictory to the observer - and thus it also feels creepy. As mentioned, with relatively rare and evanescent exception - a mouth smile does not appear commonly with widely opened eyes. And it doesn't make those people seeing it feel normal - and it shouldn't. It immediately sends up alarm bells in our psyche - yet surprisingly it doesn't do so as often as you may think. Here lies the danger - for here there be dragons.

See also:

Nonverbal Communication Analysis No. 3245: Gov. Scott Walker Jumps into the 2016 Presidential Race - Body Language Amplifiers and Misdirection

Nonverbal Communication Analysis No. 2959: The Hunger Games Mockingjay - What makes Donald Sutherland (as President Coriolanus Snow) look so Evil? Body Language Trailer Tells

Nonverbal Communication Analysis No. 2355:  Adam Lanza's College ID and the  Body Language of Eyes Chronically Wide Open

Nonverbal Communication Analysis No. 3149: Edward Snowden on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Government Surveillance (HBO) - Body Language 

Nonverbal Communication No. 3110: Scarlett Johansson gets invaded by John Travolta - An Awkward Moment from the 2015 Oscars