Presidential speechmaking style: Emotional response to micro-expressions of facial affect

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Research considering the effect of Presidential speech making style shows individuals are likely to attend to and be emotionally affected by the facial expressions of leaders, especially those that are inappropriate for the context. In this study we tested how rapid and subtle expressions of facial affect (i.e., expressions of less than one-second, often termed micro-expressions) in speeches by a political leader impacts participants' emotional state. We do this by removing seven brief expressions (less than one-second) from a nearly twelve minute televised speech by President George H. W. Bush concerning the 1990 commitment of US military in response to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. FACS coding identified all these expressions as containing a component of smiling (lip corner puller: AU12), in some cases with the addition of other facial movements (sometimes associated with anger and/or disgust). Experiments carried out on 206 university undergraduates showed emotional state was altered as a result of these micro-expressions when the control (unaltered speech) and experimental group (micro-expressions removed from speech) were compared. Specifically, participants who viewed the micro-expressions felt less threatened and less angry. Thus, facial expression (even very brief micro-expressions) can have a significant impact on the receiver of a political speech.

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