The Importance of Language

I have been asked a few times lately if I think boredom has a facial expression associated with it.  Research suggests that it does not have a facial expression.  More intriguingly though is to look at the relationship between between communication and the emotions.  Research (e.g. Ekman) has suggested that the facial expressions related to emotion exist in order to communicate an individual’s internal state to coordinate group actions.  Many of the emotions that we communicate have existed for many generations.  The term boredom, in the english language, was only recorded in literature by the late 19th century.  As far as emotions or affective sates, this is relatively recent.  This means that we have not evolved linked physiological responses such as facial expressions to represent this state.  However, we have other abilities that allow us to determine whether an individual is bored or not, namely theory of mind.  This higher level process allows for us to use both context and an individual’s misfit between our expectations of an appropriate response in that context to determine if an individual is bored.  In other words, when we expect to be interesting in a conversation, and we do not have the necessary signs of interest, then we can infer that an individual is experiencing boredom.

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