What if our Flat Affect has a ‘flip side’?
What if Flat Affect could even be a selective, evolutionary advantage?
Are Aspies perhaps actually more appropriately aligned to deal with the great variety of societal conflicts currently confronting the world?
I have been researching prosody[i] or the inflections, physical[ii] and vocal, that make up our conversations. Numerous studies[iii] indicate that not all peoples interpret conversational inflections in the same way.
For instance, as a young man working in South America, my friend, Richard, realized that in some Chilean, Peruvian and Bolivian subcultures, it was not wise to show his teeth when smiling. He found the baring of teeth could sometimes be mistaken for an aggressive attitude.
Research by psychologist Carlos Crivelli and anthropologist Sergio Jarillo (see references below) indicates that primitive societies often do not read facial expressions in the same way as European/North American cultures. In fact, they found some of our ‘obvious’ expressions baffling.
Is the increased ‘mingling’ of previously geographically separate cultures, each of which has established its own distinctive non-verbal communication, less of a problem for us Aspies with our Flat Affect?
Does inscrutability lead to less misunderstanding of the distinctive facial ‘cues’ which neural typicals are confidently projecting?
Here’s a radical thought! What if our Flat Affect has advantages which outweigh its well–known disadvantages?
What if our lack of facial expression is not necessarily a negative quality? Could it instead be a genetic variation which facilitates our participation in a global society?
We live in an increasingly internationally diverse culture. Different facial expressions can send conflicting and sometimes even threatening messages, depending on the culture in which we find ourselves. Under those circumstances, wouldn’t Flat Affect be a good thing?
And consider this: so much of our current communication takes place on the internet where little or no facial expression is involved—emails, chat rooms, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram. Are Aspies then the children of a world society where conversation is solely based on the verbal rather than on time-honored inflected conversation?
In a shrinking world where uniquely defined cultures more often ‘bump up’ against each other perhaps we are the best prepared to diffuse possible misunderstandings, rather than further igniting them!
[ii] Facial Action Coding studies by Jennifer Fugate as reported in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Talking to Strangers pages 147 to 152.
[iii] Sergio Jarillo & Carlos Crivelli as commented upon in Gladwell’s Talking to Strangers pg.154 to 159 and abstract from: