The Fox Television Drama “Lie to me” tells the story of a “leading deception expert who studies facial expressions and involuntary body language to discover not only if someone is lying, but why.” The show is based on the recent scientific work of Paul Ekman, Ph.D.  and a theory developed by the late Silvan S. Tomkins Ph.D. called Affect Theory.
We all have experiences that forever change the way we view our world and the study of affect theory had that impact on me about ten years ago when studying human behaviour. The theory helps explain everything from the raw facial expressions of a newborn to the scripted behavioural norms of the world’s differing cultures. Seeing affect theory used to support a major network drama is evidence of the theory’s growing acceptance, and has prompted me to write about the importance of affect in the business world.
For those who seek more information about affect theory, a book (1992) by Donald Nathanson, M.D. entitled “Shame and Pride” is an excellent introduction. For the purpose of this blog article, I ask you to trust that humans are born with nine innate affects, from which all experiences are filtered. They are listed below with corresponding facial/behavioral expressions. Some are listed in low/high intensities.
Enjoyment/Joy - smiling, lips wide and out
Interest/Excitement - eyebrows down, eyes tracking, eyes looking, closer listening
Surprise/Startle - eyebrows up, eyes blinking
Anger/Rage - frowning, a clenched jaw, a red face
Disgust - the lower lip raised and protruded, head forward and down
Dissmell (reaction to bad smell) - upper lip raised, head pulled back
Distress/Anguish - crying, rhythmic sobbing, arched eyebrows, mouth lowered
Fear/Terror - a frozen stare, a pale face, coldness, sweat, erect hair
Shame/Humiliation - eyes lowered, the head down and averted, blushing
Affects assign importance to the infinite amount of information bombarding the Central Nervous System at any given moment, and are the basic building blocks of emotion and scripted behavior. One may liken them to the role of letters in building words or notes in a musical composition. Most importantly, affect is contagious and, as a result, is a critical part of our non verbal communication.
So why is all this important to Compliance? Let’s me develop a hypothetical situation to make my point. Your team is frantically processing data for a critical path trial for a filing that is mission critical to your company’s success over the next five years. Are you feeling the distress yet? How about the fear? Now let’s throw in a surprise FDA audit of your data. Is your group prepared to manage this pressure? In my experience, teams that know what to expect during an audit typically have the game plan (or scripted responses) to effectively manage such a scenario. The point here is that compliance mistakes may occur unintentionally when we are under significant distress.
Affect and Scripts play a significant role in normal operations and crisis management. In the next several months, I will expand upon this concept and the role affect theory plays in developing your culture of compliance.
 FOX Broadcasting Company (April 10, 2009) Lie to me
 Wikipedia (April 10, 2009) Affect Theory