What Is an Expressed Emotion?

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  • Written By: Sarah Parrish
  • Edited By: Jessica Seminara
  • Last Modified Date: 14 September 2019
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An expressed emotion is an experience of feelings that, while personal, is shown through a person's facial expression or body posture. In many cultures, an expressed emotional state is associated with gender-based roles and sociocultural constructs. Women are often considered to be more emotionally expressive than men, both due to natural, biological differences, and due to environmental and cultural influences.

Some expressed emotions aren't truly experienced by the individual portraying them, but rather are expressed due to a psychological malady or a form of deceit. These two causes of false expressed emotion are sometimes difficult to distinguish. This difficulty can lead to the creation of a social stigma for some people suffering from psychological challenges that affect expressed emotion, like autism or schizophrenia.

It is possible that health-related issues such as these often confound appropriate diagnoses. Some people can suffer from physiological difficulties that reduce their ability to express an emotion. This is common in people who suffer from nerve damage or people who have undergone strokes, for example.

Expressed emotion can range from something as small as a raised eyebrow to show interest, or in some cases flirtation, to a reaction that involves the entire body. Some expressed emotional reactions can even go so far as to become violent. When the expression of an emotion is psychologically or physically harmful to another person, it can be grounds for an accusation of abusive behavior.


Rather than when they do or say violent things, people are often accused of inappropriate feelings when an expressed emotion isn't very well communicated. A lack of emotional awareness, for example, is often associated with spousal or marital troubles when one spouse has a desire for an emotionally close relationship and the other partner in the couple doesn't know how to express emotion very well. Counselors can often be of assistance in teaching individuals how to more effectively express emotion.

Some people use the expression of emotion to be manipulative. Others try to minimize expressed emotion to hide their own reaction. Being able to choose what emotions to express, whether it's an obvious expression or a subtle one, is a coveted ability, used in situations varying from romantic interactions to a game of poker. Though many people would choose to view a lack of emotional expression as a negative thing, it can benefit the person controlling their own emotional expression. Being able to choose how and which emotions are expressed is a form of controlling information, which is a useful tool in social interactions.



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