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Why Your Poker Face May Not Work

Study Shows Brain Can 'Read' Others' Emotions Even if Your Eyesight Is Bad

WebMD Health News

Dec. 13, 2004 - Reading others' emotions may not require good eyesight, according to new research that may explain why it's so hard to fool someone by using a poker face.

The results suggest that the brain may be able to "read" people's emotions even when we don't realize what we're seeing.

In their study, which appears in the Dec. 12 online edition of Nature Neuroscience, researchers describe the case of a man who had lost most of his vision after several strokes damaged the part of the brain critical for normal eyesight.

Although his eyes were unaffected by the strokes, the 52-year-old man was effectively blind from the brain damage and could not detect movement or shapes.

But when researchers showed him pictures of emotionally expressive people's faces on a computer screen, he guessed the person's emotional state correctly more often than not -- even though he could not tell whether the image was of a man or a woman or whether it was even a face or not.

Brain scans of the man showed that the part of the brain responsible for processing emotions was activated when he saw emotional faces although he was not aware of it.

Researchers say the findings suggest that facial expression conveys emotions that are processed by others automatically, even without them being aware of it.

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