Perceiving Emotions in Others

This week I’ll be discussing our ability to perceive emotions in others and how it might be possible to improve this ability. The MSCEIT psychometric measures this aspect of emotional intelligence using two types of assessment.

The first involves judging what emotions are present in a photograph of a persons face. There are a number emotions to choose from and the subject is given a range of choices from present to absence of the emotion.

The second measure uses similar choices this time using symbolic or metaphorical
photographs of images from nature through to more abstract pictures.

In recent years there has been a lot of research about “mirror neurons”, it is possible that differences in our ability to perceive emotions in others could be connected to this particular type of neuron.

The following section is part of an article written by Joe Cheal in the most recent
edition of “Acuity”, one of the leading journals on NLP.

Mirror Neurons – ‘Neuro-rapport’

Returning to the theme of neurons and our VAKOG internal representations, there are a particular set of neurons that utilise our internal sensory data called ‘mirror neurons’. This is a recent discovery in neuroscience and is of particular interest to NLP.

Marco Iacoboni (2008) suggests that mirror neurons create a map of the body and are triggered by ‘potential actions’ of the body as well as actual actions. There are different types of mirror neurons that fire for different reasons:

  • when perceiving or grasping a particular object,
  • when perceiving or carrying out a particular action,
  • when perceiving or carrying out actions that achieve a similar goal and
  • when perceiving or carrying out actions that lead to other actions.

Each mirror neurons seems to prefer to fire to a certain possibility. In any situation, a number of mirror neurons will fire with different ‘interpretations’ and the brain then appears to compute the possibilities of these interpretations. Huang (2008) reports that the brain continually aims to reduce ‘prediction error’ (i.e. what it thinks will happen
versus what actually happens) and claims that “everything that can change in the brain will change to suppress prediction errors.” Presumably then, some of the mirror neurons will relearn if the outcome is different to that ‘preferred’ or predicted.

So what does this discovery of mirror neurons add to NLP?

Mirror Neurons and Rapport

The most obvious connection is with empathy and rapport. In order to get a sense of how someone else is feeling, our mirror neurons tell us. As long as we have experienced a particular emotion or action ourselves, we can then empathise with that. If we have not experienced a particular emotion or action, no mirror neurons will fire. It is as if mirror neurons are programmed with particular types of experiences once we have had those
experiences first hand. Afterwards, they will fire off if they see, hear or feel something similar. Indeed, the more practised we are at a particular action or emotion, the stronger the mirror neuron reaction when we perceive that action or emotion in others.

Peter Enticott at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia and colleagues (2008) have discovered that people who are good at interpreting other people’s facial expressions tend to have more active mirror neurons. Whether some people are born with more mirror neurons or develop more because of life experience is unclear. It seems that mapping other people’s expressions and actions onto our own bodies, helps us to understand and predict that person’s intentions and emotions. This also tends to boost empathy levels. It is clear that mirror neurons must also play a key role in calibration and emotional intelligence.

If you would like to read Joe’s full article in Acuity, Volume 2  please click on the link below for the ANLP website.

Calibration is a  standard part of all NLP Practitioner training and is used for understanding other people including their emotions. Participants take part in exercises to improve their ability to perceive emotions  visually, energetically and through the auditory channel.

As part of this training students are taught to use peripheral vision to improve how much information being taken in visually. Using peripheral vision increases our sensitivity to changes in physiology, skin tone and breathing.

In the first instance students work out what they think they are perceiving however with practice this skill is internalised. Internalisation makes this increased perception an unconscious skill and is likely to improve scores on branch one of the MSCEIT psychometric.

A similar approach is used to develop skills in perception in the “Evaluating Truthfulness and Credibility” training based on Paul Ekman’s research.

To find out more about NLP Practitioner training visit our website:

I will be moving onto the second branch in Salovey, Meyer and Caruso’s model in my next blog.

Be patient as I will be taking a three week break.

We are just about to start our NLP Trainer Training programme. We have people travelling from all over the world to attend including our co-trainer, US Master Trainer, Julie Silverthorn. To find out more about this programme click on the link below.

About Melody @ GWizlearning

Melody spent fourteen years gathering experience of the business world working in banking, telecommunications and the public sector before co-founding The GWiz Learning Partnership in 1993. Melody has a Masters Degree in Applied Positive Psychology, a degree in Psychology and a diploma in Psychotherapy. She is an NLP Master Trainer which allows her to run NLP Practitioner, NLP Master Practitioner and NLP Trainer Training courses certified by the Positive School of Intrinsic Neuro-Linguistc Psychology. She is also a qualified Myers Briggs practitioner and EI practitioner and added to all this is five years Transactional Analysis training, meaning she is able to help organisations access the hidden potential in their staff. She is also in demand for her work in transforming average or even troubled teams into high performers. Melody is a visiting lecturer at University of East London, teaching "Wellbeing and Positive Psychology" to undergraduates. Additionally, she is a member of the CIPD and is ILM accredited. Melody's interests are many and varied. She has a keen interest in personal development, canine and wolf psychology, conservation, movies and running. She also enjoys western horse riding, walking the GWiz dogs, nature watching and stage combat (particularly sword fighting).
This entry was posted in Emotional Awareness, Emotional Intelligence, NLP, Perception, Personal Development, Sensory Acuity and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Perceiving Emotions in Others

  1. Dave Bisbee says:

    Thank you for the great info. I enjoy every blog and find new ways to utilize the info in my coaching practice.

    Dave Bisbee

  2. Pingback: Mastering the Emotional | The Search for Effective Leadership

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