What are customer testimonials really saying?

Every day we are surrounded by advertisements.  Billboards, buses, radio and of course the internet and television.  Even watching a video on youtube.com these days fires an advertisement at you.  How often have you seen those adverts that have a testimonial in them?

“I used ‘Product x” and within 2 weeks I was a millionaire with beautiful skin!”

We take them for granted, we may even occasionally pay attention, but what are they really saying.

We can listen to the words, but are they the real words of the customer, or are they scripts?  Are these really customers or are they actors?

We take a lot of things at face value, especially in advertising, and rarely pay attention to what is going on until we have made a decision that we are planning to buy.  But what if the advertisement is sending out the wrong message.

I have looked at a couple of ads this evening and had the briefest analysis of what is going on with the people providing the testimonial.  Some of them are really great ways of honing your skills at MFE detection.

Slips of disgust, anger, emblem slips, sadness.  All the signs are there in direct relation to the comments that are made.

I have posted one here for your view.

let me know what you think of the first couple and their statement.  Would you believe their testimony?  Does this give you a good impression of the company or a bad one.

I welcome your views, let me know what you see and think and I will post my views as a comment in a week.

 

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It’s all in the code

An exiting week as I start my journey into the world of FACS (Facial Action Coding System).

A simple system for mapping what is happening on the face and some parts of the body with a series of alphanumeric identifiers.

It has been good to get back in touch with some old friends from my first days with Paul Ekman International and The Emotional Intelligence Academy, it has almost been like a reunion in a way and I think that has added to the whole excitement of the situation.

So what is FACS?

FACS is a way of demonstrating what is happening on the face by using a series of codes called an AU or Action Unit.  The idea being that you can demonstrate exactly what is happening on a face, without actually needing to see the face itself.  The system was developed by Paul Ekman, Wallace Friesen and Joseph Hager.  An AU itself does not define an emotion has appeared, simply that the use of a muscle or combination of muscles has produced a discernible difference on the face.  This is important to remember!  Many people think that the FACS system is a way of coding emotions, not true, though there are recognised combinations for certain facial displays associated with emotions.  Confused yet?

Think of this more like a map of what is going on in display only. A map of the local countryside is a map only and does not give you the reason for the fields and the hills. Think of FACS in the same way.  As you get deeper you can start to look at the emotional signals that we recognise and start applying a code to them.  A genuine smile uses the AU 6 and 12, and if it is a subtle or gentle smile may be coded as 6c+12c.  The letter following the number indicates the intensity of the action shown.

The cominations are varied and different and have very specific criteria for their measurement.  Not only this but one may impact on the display of another.

If it sounds complicated it is, while being essentially very simple at the same time.  The key is the understanding of how the various muscle groups work together and against each other in the facial displays that we see everyday.

It is considered to take over 100 hours of coding before you would be considered to be proficient at  measuring and mapping the criteria, and many thousands of hours before you could be considered expert.

The advantages of the system of those of us that deal with emotions is it gives us a far greater and finer insight into what actions are behind the facial displays we see.  The advantage is being able to spot the very subtle displays of emotion can be significantly increased.  Think also about squashed, masked, and even display rules.

The system is sound and has been used for many years, in the measurement of psychology patients and in these days significantly more for counter terrorism, advertising and even developing accurate facial displays for computer game characters.

There are many uses that FACS can be diverted into and certainly with the technology advances that are happening these days plans are in place to develop computer systems and programs that use elements of FACS to identify responses to advertisements.  Could we soon be looking at technology that reads what is going on with our face, understands that we are interested by what we see and continues to aim those adverts at us.

I can say with confidence that is being looked at, though at the moment processing power is an issue and the human brain is still far superior at coding.   The best computers are still taking weeks to code a face that takes an experience coder a few minutes.

I will certainly be using the new skills I am learning and expect to hear more on the subject in future.

 

Could you live without fear?

Would you really like to live without fear?

I came across this article a while ago and thought it would be nice to give it an airing and the thoughts associated with it.

 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-12017039

 

Reading through the article it becomes immediately apparent what fear actually does to protect us from harm in our every day life.  This story clearly shows how difficult that fearless life could be.

How on earth has the woman in the article survived?  After reading this article I went further into some of the other research documents.  The woman mentioned regularly put herself at significant risk because she didn’t feel the fear necessary to tell her “This may harm you.”

She did feel fear in the past.  When she was a child she knew that things would scare her just like anyone else.  However, due to a very rare medical condition she has reached the point where the part of her brain responsible for fear no longer operates.  Does her brain not recall the time in the past when she did have fear and let her go through the cognitive process of “this might harm me”?

In the study she was asked to keep a diary of what she did and what happened to her on a daily basis.  According to her own log she regularly stepped into traffic, walked through dark parks at night resulting in her being attacked by a man with a knife and held at gun-point.

In supervised experiments she was introduced to a tarantula.  The spider itself was a particularly dangerous species, she knew this and yet the only feelings she described were feelings of curiosity and wanting to touch the animal.

Fear is one of the best self-preservation mechanisms we have.  It tells us that something is likely to hurt or harm us and actively works to make us avoid that situation.  It is fear that makes us pull back from the growling dog.  It is fear that stops us walking down the alley in the more disreputable parts of town.  It is fear that puts our foot on the brake when someone steps in front of our car.

Would you really want to live without fear?

I don’t think I would.

Fear leads to…

“Fear leads to anger, anger leads to suffering…”  The words of Master Yoda.  Does fear always lead to anger?  It is certainly a legitimate question.  Surely the source of the fear would have a big relevance?  Some people will predominantly respond to a fear situation with anger as it is seen as challenging what they see as a form of personal weakness.  They get angry at the thing that makes them scared, almost whistling at the dark.

Fear is  a natural response to a threat, whether that treat is real or imagined.  It is a response that comes from the most basic part of our brain, the limbic or reptile brain.  A lot of fears can be learned responses, and some are just triggers of self-preservation.

When dealing with fear a lot of people do get angry, though that anger is not always directed outwards.  Sometimes, that anger is internalised and aimed at the self  for being afraid of something, though this could easily become self-disgust or self contempt.  Just as easily fear can become relief, excitement, grief, anguish, or delight.  Once again we come to the cause of the fear.

Looking at a couple of scenarios:  we have a person working for a large company that is not doing well in an economic downturn, instantly you get a mood of apprehension for the future.  Being called to a one to one meeting with the management that apprehension can become fear.  It is a response to a perceived threat to personal well-being.  The situation can go one of two ways.  The person is told that they have lost their job, they have been made redundant.  The person may well react with anger, why have I been selected for redundancy, that could easily lead onto disgust over the way they have been treated and contempt for the ones making the decisions.

Perhaps the person has been told that they are going to be kept on when their colleagues have not.  That can lead to a form of guild called survivors mourning.

Look also at the deceiver.  Fear of discovery is one of the factors that makes a deception discoverable, followed by the emotion that is shown after the fear.  What about that smile and flash of happiness we know as duping delight?  The little flash of a smile when they think that their lie has been believed.   Fear can elevate further if that lie has been discovered, leading to that flash of righteous anger, “how dare you challenge me?”

Fear can even lead to excitement.  A roller coaster works on this very principle.  People boarding that roller coaster right up until the first drop may be fearful. People will demonstrate a lot of the signs you expect to see in fear.  The flight or fight response.  Pallor caused by the blood running to the limbs and organs, increased heart rate and respiration, dilated pupils and even the sweats.  Very quickly this changes to excitement, enjoying the ride and burning off all that adrenaline in excitement.

Fear can lead to practically every other emotion.  Understanding the cause of that fear can give an understanding of what to expect next.

The Truth

Terry Pratchett stated in his book ‘The Truth’, “A lie can get around the world before the truth has its boots on!”

From our earliest years, right from the moment we start to communicate (from as young as 6 months old it is believed) we develop the ability to deceive.  There are so many reasons to lie:  to protect ourselves, to protect others, for some personal gain or to spare someone’s feelings.  But is there ever a reason that a lie could be justified?  Could the motives for the lie excuse the lie itself? And can we always be sure someone is telling the truth?

Firstly, let us remember one of the key tenets of the lie catcher:  There is no single indicator for a lie.  What you do get are hints and pointers that something might not be quite right, what Dr Ekman calls ‘hotspots’.  Individually these do not indicate a lie, merely that there is something happening that justifies a further investigation.  When you put these hotspots together you get a clearer picture that something is leaking out that they may be trying to keep hidden.  Again this may not be a lie, just something they don’t specifically want you to know.

Lies contain thoughts and feelings, but in order to make a lie work a lot of thought needs to take place.  This extra work is often called cognitive load; when your mind is heavily focussed on thinking, feeling starts to show through, and the feelings shown may not match the story being told.  This is emotional leakage.  The more consequential the lie, the more likely you are to leak information.

Paul Ekman tried a number of experiments around lying and detecting lies.  How people lie and looking for that holy grail of a sign of lying.   Needless to say he didn’t find his single indicator, but did find some other interesting facts.   His experiments initially were flawed, he realised quickly that people being asked to tell a lie in a lab setting had no consequence to their lie and as such were more difficult to detect.

When a lie has no consequence to it or a risk in its discovery, the emotional load is reduced.  The makes is much harder to spot.  The risk could be personal such as a loss of liberty or freedom, a risk to health or even personal gain.  If a lie doesn’t matter it may not show unless someone’s own personal moral compass is set in such a way that lies are considered taboo.

In order to increase the tension in the situation Dr. Ekman added some factors to the test.  He offered financial reward if they could successfully get a lie past him.  He left his students in a room with an envelope that contained a sum of money.  He told them that they could take the money or leave it.  If they took the money they would have to convince him that they hadn’t.  If they were successful they would get to keep the cash.  Secondly he also told them at the start of their interview that he would be able to tell when they were lying and he has never failed.  He had just increased the apprehension about being caught and there was a financial risk in place.   Suddenly the emotional leakage increased and the lies became significantly more obvious.

To detect a lie you increase the chances when there is some risk to the liar.

People also find it more difficult to lie convincingly if they have an emotional connection to the subject of the lie.  Dr. Ekman further emphasised this with another experiment with another study group.  The group was told to describe a pleasant scene that they saw on a film.  Half of the group were shown a film of flowers and gardens and asked to describe what they saw.  The second group was shown a film of a rather involved surgical procedure but were still asked to describe a scene of flowers and gardens.

In the experiment nearly all the people asked to lie were spotted.  They all leaked a very fast, subtle expression of disgust despite their more over demeanour of happiness.

We know that someone who feels no emotional connection to the subject and fears no consequence of being discovered is more likely to escape their lie being discovered.  This is also one of the failings of the lie detector test or as it is more properly known the Polygraph.  Lie detector itself is a misnomer as it does not detect lies.  What it does measure are changes in the Autonomous Nervous System.  Heart rate, body temperature, respiration and perspiration.  All of these are signs of Emotional Arousal, not lies. Fear of being discovered and fear of being disbelieved look exactly the same.  Excitement and fear look very similar to the polygraph.  The advantage of the human over any machine so far created is we can determine the emotion being felt and probe appropriately.

Some people say that the eyes are a good sign of a liar, that they will avert their eyes from you while they are lying.  Others maintain that a liar is more likely to hold your gaze to see if a lie has been believed.  At the moment there have been no confirmed studies that prove one way or the other, regardless of what the body language books tell you.

There are also other theories that rubbing the nose is a sign of a lie.  Again not strictly true.  The nose contains erectile tissue that expands when extra blood flows to it.  This happens during moment of emotional arousal causing it to tingle.  The key here is emotional arousal not lie. and you need to understand what emotions are causing this any why.

A lot of body language books put great store in illustrators and manipulators.  Illustrators are the visual punctuations to verbal statements.  The visual way of exclaiming and underlining.  Think back to the film footage of Adolf Hitler’s speeches.  He used a lot of illustrators.   When speaking from memory or something you passionately believe in illustrators tend to be visible.  When cognitive load increased illustrators tend to decrease.  Again not necessarily a sign of a lie, just that a lot of though it going on.

Manipulators are the comforting gestures.  Many exponents of body language cite these as reliable signs that someone is uncomfortable.  Yes they do appear more with discomfort; however, they are very easily controlled and suspended.  They can be reduced with very little effort.

A lie can sometimes be very difficult to spot because as Sir Terry said, it can get around the world before it has its boots on.  Detecting a lie can take time and patience compounded by the fact that most of us are biased to accept what we are told as truth.

 

The Fear

Fear is one of the base seven emotions and as such is shared and demonstrated in the same way by practically every person on the planet.  I say practically as there are some rare medical conditions that result in a person being completely fearless.  I will discuss this at a later point.

Fear is an essential part of our emotional make up.  It is there to engage us into action when something threatens our well-being as a form of self preservation and to warn others there is something that could be considered a threat.  Surely this is a good thing?  But fear is associated with the Flight, Fight or Freeze response and can have consequences of its own.  Not to mention the issues that can be raised by prolonged exposure to fearful situations, the most common of which is stress.

Stress itself is not an emotion in its own right, rather it is an emotional state that can have a number of emotions associated to it.  Lots of people cite that stress is bad.  This is not strictly true.  Some stress can be quite positive, driving us forward, and given motivation to our actions.  Extended stress without respite however, this can be problematic.

Imagine someone applying for a job.  It is the sort of job that they always wanted, they would really enjoy doing it.  It is for a company they would fight tooth and nail to get in to.  Stress has already begun.   As the date for interview gets closer the stress increases.  Is this fear?  Not really.  If we look at the idea of an emotion they are usually of rapid onset and of short duration.  Perhaps what is being felt in the build up to interview is better described as apprehension.  An emotional state that falls under the fear family.

Fear is about self-preservation.  It’s origins are in the Limbic system of the brain, responsible for the hard coded emotional responses.  This part of the brain can start a physical reaction before the cognitive side of our brain, the Neo-Cortex even gets involved.  There is no reason to fear, it is an automatic reaction to a perceived threat: surging adrenaline, increasing heart and respiration rate sending blood rushing to the limbs ready to fight or flee from danger.

Notice also that I say “perceived threat”.  There doesn’t actually have to be a threat only something that appears to be a threat.  Mistaking a shadow in a darkened house for a prowler is a perceived threat, once the cognitive part of our brain gets involved and re-assesses the situation it may then be confirmed as no longer a threat.

Stress can be a very damaging situation if it is not handled correctly.  There are situations where we have no control over the stress we may receive.  This is possibly the worse kind of stress.  Lack of control or the ability to change the situation can increase the stress this causes the stress to escalate.

Eventually stress reaches the breaking point.  The body and mind can’t take any more.  Once this point has been reached it is very difficult to turn around.  Thinking about the situation can bring on panic attacks.  Essentially, the body goes into a full fear response.  The body is reacting to a perceived threat of more stress than it can handle, that is contrary to its well-being.

Once an emotional script has been written it is very difficult, sometimes impossible to change that script and an alternative has to be created by the use of supportive therapy.

Understanding the reasons for fear can give us an insight into the reactions that some people have.  Fear can be one of the most difficult emotions to handle and control because of its very nature as a preserver of life.

 

Emotional Overload

Many people are frustrated by their emotions; “It’s like I am out of control!”, “The anger just wells up inside me!”, “I feel so down”

People usually say this and call these negative emotions.  You never hear people say “I wish I wasn’t so happy all the time.”  Why do we have such a resistance to these “negative emotions”?

Firstly, I don’t agree to the idea of of a negative emotion as such, as all emotions are necessary and serve a purpose.  Just because we don’t particularly like the feelings associated with them, they exist for a reason.  Perhaps we should focus on the reason why they exist rather than trying to avoid them.  Understand the triggers will helps us better deal with the feelings and the effects of the emotion.  They can be subtle and fleeting, barely the brush of a butterfly’s wing; or they can be absorbing, compelling and defying reason and common sense.

My interest began at about the age of 10 years.  I recall quite clearly being sat in my dad’s van while he was making a delivery and looking at my face in the side mirror on the door.  I clearly remember changing my face very subtly from anger to happiness and noticing how these very subtle changes could make such a difference.  I have a natural instinct for spotting these rapid signs of emotion that sometimes happen in just a fraction of a second, often called Micro-Facial Expressions or MFEs, or the subtle demonstration of an emotion.

These emotional signs can give an insight into deception, but they are not in themselves an indicator of a lie.  There is no single indicator of a lie, there is no Pinocchio’s nose.  What has to be considered is that when someone deliberately intends to deceive there is a conflict between the emotional load and the cognitive load, the challenge between thinking and feeling.  Understanding why these things happen gives us that insight.

These days I know a lot more about this subject and why I have the skills I do thanks to Dr. Paul Ekman.  Though I have always been able to spot these signs I was never very sure what I was looking at.  Dr Ekman put it into words and demonstrated the reliable signs of these emotions happening.  I can no put a specific name to what I am seeing.  Be that Fear, Anger, Disgust, Contempt, Sadness, Happiness and Surprise.

You may not always know the reasons for the emotions appearing, and some serious consideration should be given before jumping to a conclusion, questions need to be asked to understand the why of something.

The seven emotions mentioned above are the globally recognised emotions regardless of where you are from in the world.  Fear always looks the same, even when spoken language gets in the way.  The language of the visible emotion cuts through these barriers of language.

Even the idea of “Negative” emotions have their place. Sadness tells people we need support.  Anger warns others to stay out of our way.  Fear tells others there may be something that puts us all at risk.

Sadness and melancholy gives us time to recoup and ask for help.  By indulging our sadness we appreciate happiness more.

Accept your emotions but understand their origins.