Wig & Pen ponders whether the intense displays of mass, hysterical mourning of the death of Kim Jong Il are genuine, and the facials “tells” for faked sadness:
Two weeks ago, while gazing at photos of North Koreans in mourning–including grown men chewing the scenery–I recalled head shots depicting emotional states in the books and training materials of Paul Ekman. What, I wondered, would Professor Ekman, our leading authority on “reading” emotions from facial expressions, make of that frenzy of facial contortions from the Hermit Kingdom?
Kim Jong Il…knew exactly how the [his] population lined up: loyal core, 5-25%; wavering, 50-75%; hostile, 8-27%. But those who dissented–even in a whisper, even by hanging his portrait askew–ended in prison camps, subjected to forced labor and starvation.
How might Dr. Ekman audit the “grief cred” of our North Korean subjects? He’d certainly have us look for any upward angling of the eyebrows’ inner corners. It’s a high-probability marker of grief, he writes, that few can turn on voluntarily. He might also recommend that we look for slight or partial expressions; they might reveal other emotions—especially, in this case, fear. (Tensed lower and raised upper eyelids together are a high-percentage signal of fear–whether it stems from totalitarian disapproval or leering clowns.) And he might have us sleuth out micro expressions (1/5 a second or less in duration), which can reveal fleeting emotional “tells.”
But buyer beware–trained actors and some sociopaths can beat the system. And there’s also temporary emotional contagion in numbers. Whatever the underlying mechanism of collective mimicry—mirror neurons, an intensified, rhythmically repetitive activity level—the herd makes it easier to feel the love, feel the grief. Professional mourners, you should note, typically gig as an ensemble.