How biting on pen stops you recognising emotions in others
We've all done it. At least once in our lives we've found ourselves chewing absent-mindedly on our pen whilst we try and concentrate and probably thought nothing of it. Although it may seem harmless enough, a recent study suggests otherwise.
The research, carried out by Lindsay Oberman and her colleagues, examines the widely accepted notion that our ability to empathise with others is aided by the act of mimicry. The concept works on the idea that in reflecting the expressions and actions of those we communicate with we help ourselves understand their emotions.
Oberman's research found that expressions that used more facial muscles, such as happiness and distress, were harder for her subjects to identify when a pen was clenched between their teeth, pointing toward the counteractive effect chewing a pen might have on recognising other people's emotions and engaging with their views.
From her research, Oberman suggests that the act of pen-chewing reduces our ability to copy the facial expressions that we see, obstructing our ability to empathise with the people we are talking to.
Applying Business Emotional Intelligence approach to this research would suggest that a simple way to help others understand your perspective (whilst overcoming any communication barriers) could be to try and refrain from fiddling when talking to other people.
Also focussing on your message, when you notice people are chewing intently on their own pen, remembering Oberman's findings – remind yourself that they may not be connecting fully with what you are saying.
You could try and compensate for this by making sure that you yourself are relaxed and open to reflection. Not only will this put those around you at ease but it could could help them relax, in turn reducing the likelihood that they resort to empathy-obstructive pen-chewing!!
Just remember, if people mimic your body language, you know they are connecting to you and are likely trying to understand your perspective. If they are not, you need to change your approach because they are not receiving the message.
Oberman, L.M., Winkielman, P. & Ramachandran, V.S. (2007). Face to face: Blocking facial mimicry can selectively impair recognition of emotional expressions. Social Neuroscience, 2, 167-178.
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