How We Read a Room

Posted on June 28, 2019

The ability to evaluate the reactions of others through their facial expressions and subtle behavioural cues is important for an individual to judge social situations and respond accordingly. However, in social settings, the many different faces make it difficult for us to evaluate them one by one. How do we decide which group of people to approach?

Various studies suggest that we are able to rapidly obtain a general impression of a group of people through ensemble perception. Research on gaze processing showed that individuals are highly accurate in stating the average gaze direction of a group of people compared to if they only focused on one or two people. With just one look, we can sum up information from at least four faces at the same time, despite the complexity of facial expressions.

Another study required its participants to describe the average expression of a group of faces in a short amount of time. Similarly, individuals were able to accurately point out the average facial expression of the group. While previous studies have discovered the ability for us to conduct ensemble perception on various groups of objects, the fact that we are also able to perceive faces in this manner was not known before.

However, not everyone is able to do this. People who have the autism spectrum disorder are not able to evaluate facial expressions as well as others, and this is worsened in group settings where they are faced with a crowd of people. Therefore, a well-developed facial perception ability is needed for us to evaluate groups of people effectively.


Source material from Psychology Today

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