Expressive behavior psychology

Expressive behavior psychology DEFAULT

This term is used for “those aspects of movement which are distinctive enough to differentiate one individual from another” (Allport and Vernon, 1933). They include gesture, handwriting, facial expression, gait, posture, voice, and linguistic patterns. The studies in the field have focused on two basic questions: How much consistency is there between different expressive movements? and, How well do these movements express emotions and personality characteristics?There is considerable evidence for consistency among various expressive movements. Enke (1930) has shown that there are consistent differences among Kretschmer’s personality types in vastly different activities, such as reacting to music, writing with a pen, and carrying a glass of water. Wolff (1930) found that judges could match records of the same individual’s handwriting, vocal expression, manner of retelling a story, and facial profile with considerable accuracy. Arnheim (1928) demonstrated that personality sketches could be matched with handwriting; quotations of authors, with their photographs; and silhouettes with descriptive terms—all somewhat above chance. See CONSTITUTIONAL TYPES.In their experimental studies, Allport and Vernon gave a series of thirty motor tests to large groups of subjects, including writing, tapping, walking, reaching, and drawing simple figures, and then scored each test objectively in terms of such characteristics as pressure of movement, speed, size etc. Analysis of these performances revealed that (a) gesture patterns are stable characteristics of individuals; (b) the same task tends to be performed in the same way by different muscle groups (e.g. by right and left hand); (c) different tasks are also performed in much the same way by different muscle groups. After reviewing their own experiments and those of other investigators, these authors conclude that “Fundamentally our results lend support to the personalistic contentions that there is some degree of unity in personality, that this unity is reflected in expression, and that, for this reason, acts and habits of expression show a certain consistency among themselves.”The Allport and Vernon studies have shown, however, that the unities and consistencies have to be defined with great care. They did not find evidence for a general speed factor, or uniform “psychic tempo,” but discovered three independent speed factors, one for drawing, another for verbal expression, and a third for rhythmic movements. Similarly, they did not Uncover a general psychomotor power or energy factor, but found evidence that some individuals express themselves more emphatically than others as a result of what they termed “psychic pressure.” There was also evidence that some people are more “expansive” than others in all their movements, such as walking stride and handwriting. Others were found to be especially free and impulsive in their movements. These two tendencies, termed “areal” and “centrifugal,” were found to be relatively independent of each other.A careful comparative study has shown that the gestures of Italian immigrants tend to be sweeping, symmetrical, bilateral, and emotionally expressive; while those of traditional Eastern Jews in America were found to be more cramped, intricate, unilateral, and ideographic. However, among assimilated or “Americanized” Jews and Italians the gesture patterns resembled those of the particular social and economic stratum with which they were identified. Moreover, traditional Jews living among Italians and traditional Italians living among Jews also tended to adopt the gestures of the particular group they lived with, and those who were simultaneously exposed to both of these subgroups showed hybrid gesture patterns (Efron and Foley, 1937).A huge number of studies have been made of facial expressions in emotion. Historically speaking, the anatomist Charles Bell (1806, 1844) held that most facial movements are practical rather than expressive—that is, the angry dog opens his mouth to make respiration easier. But he also suggested that certain muscles found in apes and men, such as the corrugators that knit the brow, function only to express finer shades of feeling. Darwin, on the other hand, felt that the human tendency to open the mouth and show the teeth is a remnant of the teeth-baring that occurs in simian combat. The German anatomist, Piderit (1872), held that facial expression has a present utility in terms of assisting or impeding our sensoryexperience—for example, the tongue is pressed against the lips in savoring a substance, but is withdrawn to minimize a bitter taste. Similarly, interest and attention are expressed by opening the eyes widely, and indifference by keeping them half shut. These and other points were supported by pictures of facial expressions associated with various emotions.Boring and Titchener (1923) made compound pictures out of the mouths, brows, noses and eyes taken from the Piderit pictures and showed that almost any combination, even those including contradictory components, would be accepted by some subjects as genuine expressions of certain emotions. Buzby (1924) and Femberger (1928) presented the full Piderit faces to subjects along with a list of emotions, and found little agreement in their judgments. This suggested that either the face does not effectively communicate emotions to others, or that the subjects were particularly unskilled in reading emotions from facial expression. By giving “false” names to the facial expressions, and asking whether they expressed the designated emotions well or poorly, Fem- berger showed that his subjects were often greatly influenced by suggestion. This result indicated that in everyday life the situation, or context, may play a large part in suggesting what the facial expression means.Many experiments have lent support to this view. In one study, facial pictures of athletes gasping for air at the finish of a hundred-yard dash were shown to a large group of subjects. They named a wide variety of emotions, few of them close to the mark. Similarly, Geldard (1962) cites an experiment in which the same close-up of an actor’s face was combined with three different pictures, one showing a plate of soup, another a dead woman in a coffin, and the third a little girl playing with an amusing toy bear. When all three photos were shown to the same audience, they commented enthusiastically about the actor’s ability to express appropriate emotional responses! Other experiments have revealed considerable disagreement among observers who were asked to identify posed expressions of experienced actors (Langfeld, 1918). Kanner (1931) has presented evidence that posed expressions of the more overt emotions, such as surprise, fear, rage, and horror, can be correctly identified by more than 50 per cent of judges, but the average score was less than 25 per cent on posed expressions of the more subtle emotions such as pity and suspicion (PLATES 26 AND 27).A number of experiments have been performed in which photos were taken of individuals placed in situations designed to elicit various emotions. Landis (1924) had his subjects inspect pornographic pictures, smell ammonia after reading the false label “Syrup of Lemon,” put their hand in a bucket of live frogs, examine colored photographs of horrible skin diseases, and so on. Photos of their spontaneous expressions were taken with a hidden camera, and then shown to groups of college students. Only 31 per cent of their judgments agreed with the introspective reports of the subjects who had gone through the experiences. Moreover, a careful analysis of the expressions themselves revealed no significant correspondence either with the situations or with the emotions reported by the subjects. In fact, many subjects used characteristic expressions or mannerisms, such as wrinkling the brow or pursing the lips, for all emotions.These results strongly suggest that there may be no universal facial expressions by which we can distinguish different emotions. As Crafts and others (1938) state, in commenting on Landis’ results, “What happens in most cases of so-called ‘reading emotion from the face’ is that we observe, not only the facial expression of an individual, but also many other perceptual aspects of his behavior (e.g. verbal, gestural, and postural signs), and especially important, we observe, as well, the situation which is stimulating him.” They also point out that we can read the emotions of friends and relatives with some accuracy by using subtle cues which we come to know through long and intimate association.

Cite this page: N., Pam M.S., "EXPRESSIVE BEHAVIOR," in, November 28, 2018, (accessed October 17, 2021).

N., Pam M.S.


Emotional suppression: physiology, self-report, and expressive behavior

This study examined the effects of emotional suppression, a form of emotion regulation defined as the conscious inhibition of emotional expressive behavior while emotionally aroused. Ss (43 men and 42 women) watched a short disgust-eliciting film while their behavioral, physiological, and subjective responses were recorded. Ss were told to watch the film (no suppression condition) or to watch the film while behaving "in such a way that a person watching you would not know you were feeling anything" (suppression condition). Suppression reduced expressive behavior and produced a mixed physiological state characterized by decreased somatic activity and decreased heart rate, along with increased blinking and indications of increased sympathetic nervous system activity (in other cardiovascular measures and in electrodermal responding). Suppression had no impact on the subjective experience of emotion. There were no sex differences in the effects of suppression.

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The Ability to Judge Others from Their Expressive Behaviors

Fifty Years of Personality Psychology pp 197-206 | Cite as

Part of the Perspectives on Individual Differences book series (PIDF)


Allport (1937) had a very strong opinion about where to look in order to figure out the content and structure of people’s personalities: Look at their expressive movements. That is, look not only at what people are doing, but how they are doing it; listen not only to what they are communicating, but also the manner in which they are communicating it. In telling us to take these expressive movements very seriously, Allport was not telling us to disregard what people are doing or trying to do. In fact, he maintains that what people are trying to do is most fundamental in revealing the nature of their traits. But still, he cautioned, we should not ignore the “hows” of behavior. Sometimes the ways that people do things are redundant with the fact that they are doing those things. To embellish Allport’s own example a little (1937, pp. 464–465), if a group of people were to walk to Yankee Stadium every time the Yankees had a home game, that behavior would suggest that they were very enthusiastic about Yankee baseball. If, in addition, one were to observe that on the way to the Stadium, they all had bubbly faces and sprightly gaits, and that their tee shirts, hats, watches, and tote bags were all emblazoned with the Yankee insignia, that information would only serve to underscore the information already available from the knowledge that they attend every game. But, Allport claimed, expressive movements can do more than simply tell us the same information in a different way. Allport believed that expressive behavior is unconsciously determined and therefore can provide a clue to deep-seated aspects of personality that are not always evident in the content of behavior.


Facial Expression Nonverbal Behavior Facial Movement Expressive Behavior Facial Action Code System 

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1993

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of VirginiaCharlottesvilleUSA
1. Introduction to Human Behavioral Biology

Expressive and Coping Behavior

Last Updated on Sat, 05 Dec 2020 | Personality

Maslow (1970) distinguished between expressive behavior (which is often unmotivated) and coping behavior (which is always motivated and aimed at satisfying a need).

Expressive behavior is often an end hi itself and serves no other purpose than to be. It is frequently unconscious and usually takes place naturally and with little effort. It has no goals or aim but is merely the person's mode of expression. Expressive behavior includes such actions as slouching, looking stupid being relaxed showing anger, and expressing joy. Expressive behavior can continue even hi the absence of reinforcement or reward. For example, a frown, a blush, or a twinkle of the eye are not ordinarily specifically rehiforced.

Expressive behaviors also include one's gait, gestures, voice, and smile (even when alone). A person, for example, may express a methodical, compulsive personality shnply because she is what she is and not because of any need to do so. Other examples of expression include art, play, enjoyment, appreciation, wonder, awe, and excitement. Expressive behavior is usually unlearned spontaneous, and determined by forces within the person rather than by the environment.

On the other hand coping behavior is ordinarily conscious, effortful, learned and determined by the external environment. It involves the individual's attempts to cope with the environment; to secure food and shelter; to make friends; and to receive acceptance, appreciation, and prestige from others. Coping behavior serves some aim or goal (although not always conscious or known to the person), and it is always motivated by some deficit need (Maslow, 1970).

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Psychology expressive behavior

hyde and rugg

By Gordon Rugg

There are a lot of very useful concepts which are nowhere near as widely known as they should be.

One of these is the concept of instrumental versus expressive behaviour. It makes sense of a broad range of human behaviour which would otherwise look baffling. It explains a lot of the things that politicians do, and a lot of the ways that people act in stressful situations, for instance.

This article gives a short overview of the traditional version of the concept, and describes how a richer form of knowledge representation can make the concept even more useful.

Humans being expressive and instrumental

bannerv1Sources for original images are given at the end of this article

The concept of instrumental versus expressive behaviour (also known as communicative behaviour) has been part of sociology and social psychology for a long time, and tends to be taken for granted in those and related fields.

Instrumental behaviour is about getting something done. For instance, eating a meal because you’re hungry is instrumental behaviour.

Expressive behaviour is about sending out social signals. For instance, a politician eating a meal with supporters despite not being hungry is sending out a social signal, showing their allegiance with those supporters.

So far, so good. However, a lot of things can, and do, go wrong when these concepts play out in the world.

One example is bedside manner in the medical world. The medical staff are, understandably, primarily focused on instrumental behaviour that will keep the patient alive and help the patient recover. However, this can often come across to the patient as a significant absence of expressive behaviour; the patient therefore perceives the medical staff as uncaring.

Another example is politicians engaging in expressive behaviour that is apparently useless in practical terms, such as voting for a particular policy that has no chance of ever being enacted, to send out a signal to their supporters. This overlaps strongly with the concept of sub-system optimisation not necessarily leading to system optimisation; what’s good for one politician, or for one political party, may be disastrous for the country or the world as a whole.

If you deal with people at times of stress, such as students around exam time, you see another crossover between instrumental and expressive behaviour. When people can’t solve a problem via instrumental behaviour, they often try using communicative behaviour instead, to signal that they care about the issue and are trying hard. This can easily be misconstrued, and perceived as a sign of incompetent cluelessness, because they’re not doing the practical things that would solve the problem.

That’s a swift overview of instrumental behaviour, expressive behaviour, and how they can make sense of much apparently irrational behaviour.

It’s a useful distinction, but it has problems. For instance, if a politician is deliberately engaging in an expressive behaviour in order to achieve the practical goal of being voted into power, does that mean that the expressive behaviour is itself instrumental?

The answer is yes, this behaviour is both expressive and instrumental. This doesn’t need to be a contradiction. One simple way of showing these concepts in a more powerful way is to treat them as two axes on a graph, where a given behaviour can range from low to high in how expressive it is, and from low to high in how instrumental it is.

Here’s an example.

expressive and instrumental

It’s the same formalism that we’ve used previously for various other topics, such as false dichotomies in education theory, handedness, and gender theory.

This simple transformation gives another dimension to an already powerful concept.

This raises the question of just how many other useful concepts could be made even more powerful by using a richer representation. We don’t know the answer yet, but we’re working on it; it looks like being a big number….

Notes, sources and links

You’re welcome to use Hyde & Rugg copyleft images for any non-commercial purpose, including lectures, provided that you state that they’re copyleft Hyde & Rugg.

Sources of images in the banner,_Yawning_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg

“20090105 PelolsiMeeting-3234” by Pete Souza – Obama-Biden Transition project from flickr. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons –


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Blind Spot, by Gordon Rugg with Joseph D’Agnese

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