- Contrary to expectations, extraverts were not consistently better at expressing emotions accurately.
- Good emotional senders tended to be people who are exhibitionistic, dominant, and want to be the center of attention.
- Skill in emotional expression is a key element of charisma and influencing others.
How does our personality affect others? What kinds of people are able to influence the emotions of others? This was the topic of investigation in a series of studies.
Participants in a research experiment completed a large and comprehensive battery of personality measures, including such traits as extraversion, neuroticism, dominance, and impulsivity. They then engaged in an emotional sending task; they were asked to express various basic emotions (e.g., happiness, sadness, anger, surprise, etc.) to a video camera while saying “neutral” sentences. Judges then viewed the videos and tried to determine the emotion that was being sent. The results measure how good people are at accurately sending emotions to others.
Which personality traits were related to the ability to convey emotions accurately?
Surprisingly, and contrary to expectations, extraverts were not consistently accurate in expressing emotions. Instead, emotional sending ability was correlated with being dominant and exhibitionistic, being the kind of person who loves to be visible and “on stage” in social situations. These results suggest that certain types of people seem to hone their skills at conveying emotions to others, but not just extraverted persons who enjoy the company of others, but dominant and exhibitionistic individuals who want to be the center of attention.
In a second experiment, we had participants express more complex emotions (e.g., sympathy, pride, seduction) in the same manner. The results were the same. Exhibitionistic and dominant individuals were more successful even with these more complex and difficult to decode emotions. Importantly, the same individuals who were good at sending the simpler, more basic emotions (e.g., happiness or anger), were also more successful at expressing complex emotions such as sympathy and seduction.
What are the implications? It suggests that the ability to accurately express emotions to others is stimulated by a desire to show off and affect others. It is likely these personality traits that drive certain individuals to develop skills at enacting emotions. Subsequent research suggests that emotional sending ability is a learned and developed skill – not necessarily something we are born with. This makes sense because research on charisma suggests that charisma is something that can be learned and developed. Charisma is associated with the ability to convey emotions to arouse and inspire others. This is why charismatic leaders are able to fire up emotions in followers, both positive emotions, but also negative emotions, such as anger or rage. Moreover, many people are drawn to charismatic individuals because they sense that the charismatic is sympathetic – (“S/he really understands me and shares my feelings.”).
Friedman, H.S., Riggio, R.E., & Segall, D.O.* (1980). Personality and the enactment of emotion. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 5, 35-48.
Friedman, H.S., & Riggio, R.E. (1999). Individual differences in the ability to encode complex affects. Personality and Individual Differences, 27, 182-194.
Riggio, R.E. (1987). The charisma quotient. New York: Dodd, Mead Publishers.
Antonakis, J., Finley, M., & Liechti, S. (2012). Can charisma be taught? Tests of two interventions. Academy of Management Learning and Education, 10, doi.org/10.5465/amle.2010.0012