A POKER face. It is the expressionless gaze that gives nothing away. To win at poker, the face must be mastered, and master it is what the best players try their best to do. But a study just published in Psychological Science by Michael Slepian of Stanford University and his colleagues suggests that even people with the best poker faces give the game away. They do so, however, not with their heads but with their hands.
All of last week I found myself thinking about hands. Two weeks after 9/11 the season opening performance for American Repertory Ballet was scheduled to happen at The State Theater in New Brunswick, NJ. A former RKO movie house the theater is beautiful and large holding approximately 1800 people. I was working with ARB and the weeks leading to that performance were tense and difficult as the organization decided how to proceed. As we all know, the show must go on.
I don't remember where the advice came from, whether it was friends in the armed forces, or if I read it or saw it on tv. All I remember, and I remember it clearly, is talking to the theater's front of house staff and conveying something I had learned. In such a large space, with such tension and fear in the air, what you are supposed to do is look at people's hands.
You don't scope the venue glancing back and forth. If you do that the faces become a blur. Instead you look at people's hands and if you see something suspicious then you look up and do whatever you can to remember as much about the face and the person.
Last Friday morning, while the Boston manhunt for the marathon bombers had shut down most of the city, I walked through New York's Penn Station on my way to work. I had never seen that many armored security personnel. They had situated themselves in such a way that you couldn't exit the space without walking through them. As the shock of having to walk through a virtual wall of rifles and bomb sniffing dogs settled, I noticed the discreet way in which they were looking at hands, then making eye contact and finally looking at bags as we walked through.
Eyes may be the windows of the soul, but hands is what gives your intentions away.