Showing that you're nervous can make you more likable - new research

Showing that you’re nervous can make you more likable – new research

Humans behave in strange ways. We easily reveal our inner feelings during moments of weakness, which doesn’t seem like a smart thing to do.

By simply observing someone’s behavior, we can tell if they are feeling pain, frustration, or discomfort. Surely the best strategy is to try to hide the weakness? Why risk being exploited?

Many other animals rarely show visible changes in behavior when they are struggling. Veterinarians and animal caregivers must rely on cues such as changes in blood pressure, heart rate, or hormone levels to get an idea of ​​pain or stress. But could there be an advantage in broadcasting your weakness?

Our research (funded by ERC) investigates why we communicate using our bodies, faces, and hands. We find that these signals play a major role in how social networks are built and maintained. Specifically, our experience has shown that the more stressed you seem, the more lovable others will find you.

Evolution and pressure

We have long recognized that the experience of stress and behavior is linked. When someone is under stress, they are more likely to exhibit what we call self-directed behaviour. We touch our face, bite our nails, trip over things and play with our hair. Very similar forms of stress behavior have been documented in monkeys and apes, adding to evidence that has emerged over evolutionary time from a common ancestor.

However, how others view these stress-related behaviors has been a mystery to the researchers. Do people even notice these behaviors in others? Can we detect when others are feeling stressed? How does that change our impression of them?

To investigate, we needed to induce mild stress in the volunteers to study their behaviour. They had three minutes to prepare for a presentation and a mock job interview, followed immediately by a difficult math test.

It wouldn’t shock you to know that most of the participants became nervous.

We showed snapshots of these stressed volunteers to a new group of people, who rated their behavior on scales such as “How stressed is this person?” The results told us what people looked like when exposed to stress and what people thought of them.

It turns out that humans are very adept at recognizing when a person is feeling stressed. The greater the stress on a person, the greater the tension that others think – a clear linear relationship. As expected, self-directed behavior appears to play an important role. The more of these behaviors a person produces, the greater the stress on him.

It’s also worth noting that these weren’t subtle cues that could only be detected by close friends, as we asked complete strangers to make judgments about our participants.

new results

The fact that others can clearly detect when we are stressed is evidence that these behaviors work like other types of nonverbal communication (such as facial expressions and gestures) – a fact that has not been supported until now. This is the first study to find a demonstrable link between stress behavior and stress perception.

Humans show clear signs when stressed.
from shutterstock.com

The fact that those judged as most stressed were also considered the most likable could explain why we produced these signals of vulnerability in the first place (and why they evolved). People’s first impressions of “stress signals” are not negative, but in fact very positive. We expect people to benefit from vulnerability, but showing your vulnerability encourages support and social bonding.

We are a very cooperative species, more than any other animal, and we are drawn to those who are honest about their intentions and state of mind. There is nothing more honest than communicating when you are vulnerable.

Other research shows that stress can be a good thing and should be embraced. Our brains evolved to meet challenges in the environment, and light stress is a healthy challenge to keep your brain stimulated.

Communicating with stress tells a similar story. Show your feelings, whether they are good or bad. Don’t try too hard to hide your stress levels during your big presentation or interview. Communicating honestly and naturally through your behavior may actually leave a positive impression on others.

2022-05-13 10:03:44

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