Positivity Bias in Nonverbal Cues – Are You a Culprit?

Positivity Bias is a term that can be applied to many circumstances, people and contexts wherein an unwarranted bias is made towards what is perceived as ‘positive’, or ‘optimistic’.

In nonverbal communication, we see a lot of positivity bias, both when we observe feedback being provided (either by humans or AI) and when we observe feedback being received. 

In recent conversations, this positivity bias appeared very pronounced around facial expression, and active listening. 

At Virtual Sapiens, we work diligently to avoid falling into the traps of positivity bias. For example, when we look at facial expressions, we are not providing feedback and scoring based on how many times you smile.

(⚠️Beware of other AI feedback tools that do just this!⚠️)

Similarly, ‘active listening cues’ for us, are not limited to head nods. Active listening ≠ Agreement. Instead, we look for cues that show someone you are considering what they are saying, engaged and present as a listener.

What is fascinating for us to observe is the way some of our users digest feedback with a positivity bias. For instance, when receiving feedback on their facial expression variation, some user interpret this as ‘oh, I need to smile more’. When in fact, all of our copy, feedback and suggestions point towards develop the muscles around dynamic facial expressions, in general. Expressing interest is very different from breaking into a big smile, and in many professional cases can be a powerful way of showing someone you are engaged and value what they are sharing with you. 

Positivity bias is a tricky thing, because, as with most biases, people are largely unaware of it, and will filter through information looking for what they expect to see. 

Our tips to you:

❗ Start to develop an awareness around your own expressions of positivity bias. Having a dynamic presence is not just about agreeing with people and smiling. It is a much more complex and personal experience.

❗ When receiving feedback, pay attention to what is actually being said, not what you assume may be intended. 

❗When giving feedback, be wary of leaning towards positive-only cues, and ensure you are providing well-rounded and nuanced feedback that empowers choice and authenticity.

So what do you think? Are you a culprit?