Facial expressions – Display rules

In the article Facial expressions of emotions, I have shown that emotions’ communication is the main role of facial expressions. I have also mentioned the main emotions which are communicated. Yet, these expressions are seldom seen in the everyday life; we are educated, since we are born, to control our facial expressions, and thus appear what the scientists called display rules – a term coined by the psychologist Paul Ekman.

Display rules are interventions we are voluntary making over facial expressions, as to not reveal exactly what are we feeling and how much are we feeling in a certain moment. They appear through socialization, starting in the family; we are told, many times, that we don’t have to be sad, or have to be happy, or that is not nice to show our anger, or fear, and so on. Later, in the society, we learn that is beneficial for us to not show some emotions, to feign others, even for the sake of politeness.

The control over displayed emotions comes in different ways. I will present you a classification, as it was made by Peter Andersen in his book Nonverbal Communication: Forms and Functions. According to him, display rules are the following:

Simulation – it happens when we are showing on the face emotions which are not felt. You receive a gift that does not impress you at all and still, you look enchanted in order to spare the gifter’s feelings.

Intensification – occurs we have an emotion, but we want to communicate a stronger version of it. Has the child broken something? You look angrier than you are, as to prevent future material losses.

Miniaturization – when we are showing a weaker version of what are we feeling. A storm of jealousy and disappointment is transformed into slight bitter smile in the corner of the mouth, when you are seeing your ex with someone else, both looking overhappy.

Inhibition – occurs when we are trying to show no emotion. Most used by those who want to look unimpressed by anything. Or by those who are trying to hide something.

Masking – when we are trying to show a completely different emotion. Most hard to realize it, we all know that, especially when our mother-in-law is paying a visit to us.

As long we are social animals, all of us will use these strategies.  But I think that it is ideal to use as rarely as possible, because even having a control over facial expressions that does not mean it is absolute and it happens without cost. Any emotion is searching a way to express itself, and if we are trying to manipulate it every time, we will end up looking into the mirror, without knowing ourselves what we are really feeling.