Sunday, January 24, 2016

Eye rolling: What is being communicated?

BIG eye-roll here.  She wants everybody to know what she is thinking.
Here is a stealth eye-roll, she rolls her eye as she starts to blink and turn away.  It is not as "in your face" as the example above but the emotions it conveys are just as intense.
Malcolm Gladwell  dedicates one chapter to "micro-expressions" in his book Blink.

In one vignette, he has observers watch a short interaction between a couple.  They are discussing the purchase of a pet.  The observers watch about 15 seconds of interaction and are then asked to predict whether the couple would be together a year from now.

After collecting the predictions, the researchers ran through the short segment at low speed and pointed out where the woman performed three "micro eye-rolls" in that fifteen seconds.

Short answer:  They would not be together.  The woman has nothing but contempt for the man.  That does not bode well for the relationship.

The concept that eye-rolls = contempt is now deeply embedded in the popular culture.  A typical article here.


Contempt is a blunt instrument of a word.

I want to tease out some of the nuance.  For the purpose of this essay, I will define
Contempt: A state (or opinion) where the holder of contempt considers continued conversation with the subject a burden.

It can mean:
  1. You are an idiot and I want to world to know it
  2. I do not have the communication skills to tell you the thoughts and feelings in my head
  3. You do not have the background to understand
  4. I am writing you off; I do not care enough about you to make the effort
  5. It does not matter what you say, I am going to do it anyway
Clearly, the person in the picture at the top of the page is Contempt #1

Contempt #2 is probably the most honest and precise assessment in most Parent-kid interactions.  The kid is communicating "I give up.  I cannot communicate with you because I don't have the skills."  This is probably often the case with kids, but of course they would rather go to the dentist than explicitly admit any deficiency.

This is probably a great time to display a little bit of empathy.  Getting your kid to share one or two more sentences is a victory.  Repetitions of old sentences don't count....they have to develop or extend their thoughts or feelings or tell you something new about "where they are coming from".

Contempt #3 is probably what is in your kid's head.  They are thinking "How could you possibly understand the DeChaunac, the coolest kid in sixth grade, has a Sirius Galaxy 23.456 and anything else is no better than a couple of soup cans and kite string?  When you try to point out that DeChaunac is 17 and has his own just don't have the background to understand.

Contempt #4 is the kiss of death for relationships.  Some kids go that way but it is usually after they are out of the house.  They cannot afford to write you off before then.

Contempt #5 is what you, as a parent, must really have your ear dialed in for.  Suppose you tell him that he cannot go over the DeChaunac's house (secretly thinking they will smoke doobies, watch porn and pull the wings off of flies) then your kid is rolls his eyes thinking (DeChauanc can drive!  How do you think your opinion will stop me?)

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