Social Mood Can Be Evident in Facial Expressions

My pre-riot gigapixel photo of the Game 7 Crowd of the 2011 Stanley Cup continues to garner so much attention by various individuals, companies and institutions.

2011 Stanley Cup Canucks Fan Zone

Most recently, it was used in a study by The Socionomics Institute which showed that through people’s facial expressions, the social mood of the crowd was predominantly negative.

They theorized that the economy, particularly the S&P/TSX Composite Index (which was at a 9% decline at that time) was an indicator of the negative social mood and "may have played a role in the riot."

The study does not suggest that 2011 Stanley Cup riot was a result of the decline in the stock markets but rather it points out that regardless of the outcome of the game, the general social mood of the crowd was already negative.

Below is a excerpt of the study "Social Mood Can Be Evident in Facial Expressions" by Alan Hall (The Socionomist December 2013).

Social mood is an unconsciously shared motivational impulse arising from social interaction independently from events. People express social mood in many ways. Stock markets provide the most rapid and best-documented reflection of the fluctuations in social mood. We are not really sure how social mood is communicated. It is communicated by what people say, surely, but there are probably many things … that are more unconscious: The way that facial muscles change, for example. We might be hearing content on television, but we are also getting messages [from] facial expressions.

Social mood is unconscious, but it influences conscious emotions, which are visible in facial expressions … "The face is one of the richest sources of communicating affective and cognitive information,"1 which simply means that we can tell a lot about what others are feeling and thinking by their facial expressions.

People who pose for group photos are conscious of what they are doing, yet the influence of social mood is still anecdotally evident.

Photos of unaware subjects in crowds are different, yet they also seem to reflect social mood.

For example, this cropped photo shows a tiny portion of Ronnie Miranda’s GigaPixel image of many of the 100,000 hockey fans that crowded into the streets of Vancouver, Canada in June 2011.

Notice the generally unhappy facial expressions, which reflect less-than-positive emotions. Since no one is smiling, the faces suggest that the crowd’s social mood was predominantly negative. And although this photo doesn’t tell us about the immediate direction of the mood trend, what happened next does…. the Vancouver Stanley Cup Riot erupted.

We think that social mood played a role in the riot, because it erupted after a 9% decline within a larger 22% bear market in the Toronto S&P/TSX Composite Index (see Figure 4).

In similar fashion 17 years earlier, the 1994 Vancouver Stanley Cup Riot also occurred after Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals. The June 14 riot followed a 12% drop in the S&P/TSX Composite Index (see Figure 5).

We think the stock market declines and the sour faces in the hockey crowd reflect the same thing: a negatively trending social mood.


For more information and to access the complete detailed study which includes a special 18-minute video, please visit The Socionomist website.