Friday, April 24, 2009

Article: Reading Facial Expressions (Smile Spotting Test)

The BBC has a really interesting test on its web site at the moment. It's all about whether or not people can spot fake smiles versus real ones.

I figured that since it's part of the diagnostic criteria for aspergers that we have problems reading non-verbal cues, it would provide some insightful results.


Real versus Fake Smile Test

The test shows you 20 videos of people smiling either real or fake smiles. You can't replay the smiles until you've finished voting but you can spend as long as you like thinking about them before you choose your answer.

I expected to do badly but in fact, I did really well. I got 19 out of 20 correct.

You'll need a flash enabled browser/computer to do the test.

My Secret (Don't read this until you've done the test yourself)
At the end of the test, it asks you to indicate what clued you in.

In my case it was not the smiles at all. It was other head movements (like shaking it) which indicated that the person had just heard a joke. It was also the speed of the smile. A fake smile is slow and controlled whereas a real smile is spontaneous and fast. It's out of the persons's control.

What it all means
Ultimately, this article causes me to question whether or not people with aspergers have as much difficulty with non-verbal cues as the literature suggests.

  • Perhaps we just take longer to think about it. In this case, the length of time available to us matters and the test results don't show the outcome of high speed selection.
  • Perhaps we learn as we get older - and I'm doing much better now that I would have done ten years ago?

  • Perhaps it's just a function of our naievity. I'd been told that some smiles were going to be fake, so I was expecting them - and suspicious of all.

Whatever the reason, the test and the results are very interesting.

27 comments:

Quirky Mom said...

I got 13 out of 20.

I'm an adult Aspie with two MAs in psychology. I've studied some of Ekman's previous work, seen videos of him describing facial expressions, etc. I knew of his work on how it is muscles around the eyes that give away real vs. fake smiles, so I looked for that. And yet... I missed 7 of them. I was also looking for signs that the person had been told a joke, etc. I think that's one of the main differences -- Aspies figure out non-verbals by analyzing them, while NTs do it intuitively. I wish they'd given an average correct response, but I would guess that 13 isn't a "bad" score on this, just not a good one either.

3CrazyBoys said...

I had my almost 8 year old do it and he got 12. I talk to him all the time about the idea of "faking a happy face" when other expect it (when receiving a present, or when someone does something nice for you or gives you a priviledge)--that sometimes people like his teachers, friends or grandma really enjoy seeing he is happy and the way we tell that is by a happy face. I thought he might actually get some of the fakers, but he didn't...Anyway--cool test, thanks for publishing it! H

Shannon said...

Shame, I can't see the videos. I'll have to try at school sometimes this week.

Regina Terrae said...

Yikes. I got 8. I'm in the reading-about-AS-to-see-if-I-have-it phase.... Oh boy. I got 8....

Amanda said...

i took it before i read the full blog.

i got 10 out of 20.

however, i got the first five in a row right... i was also looking at the head shaking. but... then i told myself i was overthinking it and that that was cheating... i took the test quickly. tried to "go with my gut". i also looked at the eyes more, as people are "supposed" to look at eyes and i tend not to.

so, the test has reinforced that it is ok and GOOD for amanda to "overthink" as that is more effective.

site said most people are bad at spotting fake smiles though. so i think perhaps that anyone who tried to reason it out more than do it intuitively would have better results, regardless of aspie/nt.

Anonymous said...

I think your comment about how much time one has to study the expression is significant. I also find that my son has less trouble reading non-verbal expressions than turning his gaze to the person so that he actually witnesses the nonverbal behaviour. You cannot interpret that which you did not even see.

Anonymous said...

emm. informative text..

Anonymous said...

i got 18 right - i just looked to see if their was crinkling around the corners of the eyes. i didn't even look at the smile, just the eyes.

Anonymous said...

I got 12/20. I thought only two of them were fake.I think the videos were too short to give me enough time to decide.

Anonymous said...

I'm a 38 yr old Aspie. I got 16 out of 20, but 2 of those were in the first 4 where, as you know, warm up time was needed. And 1 other misclick was where I double clinked the video and it wouldn't play so I had to guess.
I guess you could say on the last 15 I got 14/15.

Eliana said...

I got 15 right. I don't know if i'm an Aspie, but i suspect. I think that when the smiles are genuine, the eyes shine when people smile.

Wolfie Wolf said...

I'm a 37 year old male Aspie (self diagnosed) but seeking a diagnosis. I got 15 / 20 (4 of them were in the first five). I agree with the "warm up" comment. I answered, "neck and shoulders" to the question. I believe Aspies do a better job at pattern recognition because we work harder at it. As someone else said, we don't "intuit" it so we have to find other cues and use logic. I looked at the neck (for a vocal response - laugh), shoulders, eyes and especially the residual smile after the "gratuitous" smile was over. When I "emulate human behaviour" at a cocktail party I want to get it right.

Anonymous said...

yayy 18/20 , the eyes are the biggest give away .

Unknown said...

Ah gees I got 6... Normally I do okay on these test but comparing fake from non fake, no clue. Hopefully the advise at the end will help later on :/

Anonymous said...

Woohoo! 18/20. I agree with a few other commentators- the eyes/crinkling around the eyes are the biggest factor in determining the sincerity of a smile.
How often do we read books that use the cliche "but his smile didn't quite reach his eyes" ?
Fun test!

Completecranius said...

I have aspergers and was diagnosed when I was about 14 and I got 6 right this was an incredibly difficult test for me honestly the ones I did get right I was surprised at. Makes me wonder....

Anonymous said...

I got 17 right! I was actually surprise that I got that high, I always thought I was bad at telling real and fake smiles. Looking at the eyes helped!

Anonymous said...

i got 17 out of 20...im 14 years old ha.

Poe said...

I am an aspie and I look at the eyes. If they crinkle they are sincerely smiling. I have had so many people fake smile at me I am a pro even though I only got 16/20 on the test. Being able to hear the person and read the rest of their body language helps too. When in company I tend to be distracted by all the other commotion so a fake smile may slip by.

Anonymous said...

I got an 11/20, but without any objective criteria to evaluate the score, this exercise was worthless.

It's like someone handing you 500 Szechuan dollars. Great?

Well, I'm above fifty per-cent, so I know that I have a 50% probability of evaluating the situation correctly.

This seemed like a breeze. The facial expression recognition pictures are absurd, in contrast. I really have to wonder if people actually know what that one expression REALLY means.
Scanning the page, 36(?) sets of nearly-identicial eyes. Some are completely blank. Nothing there. Anger/peering coldly and flirtatious are nearly interchangeable.

Anonymous said...

I wonder, if it really is the case that it's asperger's, that normally people evaluate the expressions or feeling in the eyes in a nanosecond, and the length of time to evaluate and outside cues are the most important factors.

Real-life doesn't provide you with 15 seconds of analyzing.

Matthew said...

I do struggle with facial expressions. I mean, basic ones I get, of course, but subtle things, I am clueless about. My fiancee and I dressed up in crazy outfits and went out for a fancy dinner, and she noticed several odd looks that we got. I didn't see a single one. That was before I learned about Aspergers.

I got frustrated with this test because I honestly had no idea about most of them. I was mostly just picking random answers. Got 9 out of 20 right. The tips on the site after the test and here in your article may come in handy if I can remember them...

Anonymous said...

I'm a 47 year old female from the United Kingdom and have all the characteristics and social problems of a typical 'female' Aspergers. I got 19 our of 20, also a similarly high response on a 'recognising emotions through eyes only' test I did online today. The end of the test says most people are actually NOT very good at recognising false smiles, but I could notice the differences in the eyes, plus other small facial cues. Mostly I just clicked on what felt instinctively right. However, when I was doing the test I felt that I was just making wild guesses and that I would get a really low score (same with the eyes-emotions test, which was also not time limited). I definitely 'over process' rather than 'under process' things, am hyper sensitive to emotion, noise, smells, touch etc. I feel my whole life has been one of 'observer' trying to figure out how other people's brains work (I got a First Class degree in Psychology and Human Biology as a mature student in my early 30's). Seems like I've gotten very good at understanding 'Neural Typical' people - but sadly I find this is not reciprocated! I am realising the need to get myself a formal diagnosis as I've found it so hard to cope in work settings etc, being constantly told to 'cheer up, smile' etc when I'm feeling fine and just thinking or processing conversation. Mostly I end up depressed and exhausted just trying to get through the average day (I internalise my anger and frustrations rather than manifest them). I actually can't understand anything said in a group setting or a noisy office, the words just sound like 'noise' to me, so I end up just loosing myself to my own thoughts and inadvertently ignoring others. I have great difficulty with eye contact but have trained myself to give it when required. However, I think I unnerve people when I do so - it actually feels to me like I am reading their minds when I look in their eyes (thus invading their privacy). I certainly don't feel making eye contact is 'building a rapport' with another, or easing the tension, rather it actually feels painful and emotionally uncomfortable for me. Maybe I am actually 'too good' at analysing others faces, rather than having a 'deficit' in processing ability? Incidently, I can draw landscapes, people and portraits in perfect perspective (whilst being dyspraxic and unable to catch a ball or find my car in a car park) and have always had a remarkable ability to communicate and form relationships with animals (I have been out in my local woods and have badgers, deer and foxes come up very close, make eye contact with me and then just carry on with their business as if I'm not there!) When I was formally assessed for dyslexia my scores on specific tests put me in both the bottom 5% of ability (for straight forward copying of symbols) to the top 2% (for abstract reasoning). Overall, I have a very high IQ, but find every day tasks extremely difficult. I'm disorganised and have no sense of time and as my dyslexia testing showed, my initial processing time is very slow - but once something is in my long term memory it is there for life and readily accessible to my recall. This means my reasoning ability scares others - that is, if they are able to follow my logic and not get lost en route! In the past I have been accused of seeing details but 'not the big picture' - but I DO 'see the big picture' - I just see it with all the frightening details, clarity and 'inter-connections' that the person making the accusation has ignored!

This is my first posted comment and I'm really enjoying reading the blog here, so I'd just like to finish by thanking the author and all the contributors for sharing your thoughts. I finally feel I have encountered a community of people I can readily understand and relate to! Sarah.

Anonymous said...

31 y/old 19/20 eyes and this after waching the "lie to me" 3 times consecutive the first seson

Michy said...

It's interesting that the test isn't intended to say anything about Asperger's. It says that MOST PEOPLE can't tell the difference between a real and a fake smile. I'm an Aspie, and I got 18/20 correct. I've been wondering lately if maybe Aspies are actually better at reading expressions than the normal populace.

The head-shaking thing was a huge giveaway in this test, really. It was very obvious to me that those people were laughing, and that would (to me) indicate a genuine smile. Scrunchy eyes, though, were the other thing that I looked for.

Anonymous said...

Michy.

I was thinking the same thing. I'm undiagnosed but strongly believe I am an aspie (or was according to DSM-IV.) I can't tell you the amount of times I have perceived conflict at work through 'false smiles' only to have neuro-typicals dismiss my concerns. It's hard to explain but I have this theory that maybe we're over-sensitive to body language and act accordingly but get dismissed for doing so - somehow I'm the one who needs to watch body language. Maybe the unspoken rule we aspies miss is not to react to passive-aggressively/fake behaviours.

parkerdell said...

I got 20/20 just by looking at the corner of the left eye. I know for a fact that it wrinkles if it is genuine, and doesn't if faked. But honestly, I couldn't "tell".

Perhaps it's a degree of overcompensation?