Reading the emotions of others is essential for even the most basic social skills. Imagine someone without this ability; she might laugh at an angry coworker or try to comfort a delighted friend. But how do our brains pick up on what others are feeling? A face often fails to tell the whole story. We also use tone of voice, posture and even odor to solve the puzzle. (For more on the many ways we make use of sensory information, see Scientific American Mind’s special report on the senses in March/April 2012.) Here’s how our brain combines information from multiple senses to decode mood.


Animation by George Retseck, Ravenswood Media; Art Direction by Patricia Nemoto; Edited by Eric R. Olson

To learn more about how we sense the emotions of others, see the March 2012 Scientific American Mind.

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