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What are the obvious signs of contempt/hatred in human relations and what is the cause for these behaviors?

In other words, are there physical and behavioral traces/signs of contempt and hatred? Can a person be kind and friendly with you, but in reality he/she feels a great amount of contempt and hatred towards you?

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  • $\begingroup$ Hiding one's negative feelings behind apparent smile is common practice because negativity is strongly discouraged in our society, but I don't know if you can tell the true feelings of a person using physical and/or behavioral traces. Hopefully someone here ill be able to provide good answer. The cause part is unanswerable though. $\endgroup$ – Spero Apr 28 '17 at 16:40
  • $\begingroup$ There is no known objective, perceiver-independent way to measure contempt. The best way is to ask the person if they're feeling contemptuous (i.e., self-report). $\endgroup$ – mrt Apr 29 '17 at 4:02
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    $\begingroup$ The company I currently work at has a quite accessible overview of how to recognize contempt (and other emotions) through facial expressions, and an explanation of why physiologically they are shown through facial expressions. $\endgroup$ – Steven Jeuris Apr 29 '17 at 12:55
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    $\begingroup$ @StevenJeuris FWIW, that there's a specific and reliable correspondence between discrete emotions and facial movements is highly contested. For a particularly impressive counterexample, see p. 726 of this paper by Hillel Aviezer. $\endgroup$ – mrt Apr 29 '17 at 16:00
  • $\begingroup$ I see potential for two very nice answers ;) $\endgroup$ – Robin Kramer Apr 29 '17 at 17:30
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The fundamental question here is: Can we "read" emotions in a perceiver-independent, objective way?

The answer, I'd venture, is: We don't really know (although, currently, we cannot do this with great reliability or specificity).

It would be painstaking to go through the history of emotion research and to go over every emotion theory that supposedly has a definitive answer to this question. Fortunately, a great overview of this history can be found here.

It would also be a pain to go through every emotion perception study, in cultures near and far, every psychophysiology study, every behavioral or neuroimaging study, and the many (sometimes quite giant) limitations of this literature. Fortunately, you can find meta-analyses on these topics, which mostly suggest we cannot "recognize" contempt, or any other emotion, with notable reliability or specificity (although we can "perceive" it; e.g., 1, 2, 3, 4.)

So, it's hard to answer this question. We might be able to one day, but we are very, very, very, very far away from sampling the dynamic and highly variable range of potential expressions of "contempt," let alone any other emotion (no study has actually tried to do this ever). Moreover, quite a few emotion theories do not recognize contempt as universal (see here for a recent overview).

If the above doesn't confuse you enough, I'll pull in the picture I pointed to in the comments. Same "disgust" face, different emotion. Well, what about contempt?

enter image description here

I realize my answer is pretty unsatisfying, but if you read a great deal of the emotion literature, you might just arrive to the same conclusion.

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  • $\begingroup$ This is inaccurate. We most certainly can recognize universal emotions, including contempt, with reliability. There are endless ethnographic studies showing this in all cultures around the world. Not understanding the basis of emotional affect is not akin to not being able to recognize the character of specific emotions. $\endgroup$ – ebrohman May 16 '17 at 12:38
  • $\begingroup$ @Ebrohman "We most certainly can recognize universal emotions, including contempt, with reliability." Do you have statistics for this? "There are endless ethnographic studies showing this in all cultures around the world." This isn't true. There is actually a very, very tiny set of studies experimentally examining universality in remote tribes. "Not understanding the basis of emotional affect is not akin to not being able to recognize the character of specific emotions." I agree, but there isn't much evidence that specific emotions have special corresponding facial movements. $\endgroup$ – mrt May 16 '17 at 16:21
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Contempt is expressed through a curled or snarled lip on one side of the face. It is a universal emotional expression that can be seen in all cultures.

The expression is often accompanied by a slight smile and raised chin, sometimes referred to as a "sneer", further showing disapproval to the target of one's contempt.

enter image description here

References:

Passion and Reason: Making Sense of Our Emotions, by Richard S. Lazarus, Bernice N. Lazarus

Liespotting, by Pamela Meyer, 2010

The Cognitive Structure of Emotions, by Andrew Ortony, Gerald L. Clore, Allan Collins

Scalar Ratings of Contempt Expressions by David Matsumoto, San Francisco State University

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