Compressing the lips to make them disappear is a universal trait done to signify stress. The subconscious mind is essentially telling the body to close down and not let anything in. Babies do this when we try to feed them yucky vegetables and when adults do it it’s because they want to shut out the outside world. Tight compressed lips happen honestly and immediately so reflect true stress sentiments revealing a troubled mind. When the mouth becomes inverted in an upside down “u” shape (down-turned smile) the facial expression turns into a high stress indicator. In 2008 at Eliot Spitzer’s news conference where he discussed the matters of his involvement in a prostitution scandal he was photographed quite obviously with a down turned mouth. The down-turned smile can show unhappiness, anger, tension and depression when held for any permanent length of time. However, Mr. Spitzer only briefly flashes this expression indicating the high level of stress he was experiencing as he made his comments.
Lip pursing is done to indicate thought processing. It usually happens when someone is trying to come up with an alternative idea. Catching this cue is highly useful during a proposal, such as reviewing a contract, or a sales document, since it tells us that someone is at least considering our offer, but that they might not be in total agreement. This can be useful while reading the document aloud because lip pursing will happen in real time as judgment arises. Other adjoining cues will tell you whether or not someone is prepared to accept or reject the offer and tell you how best to carry on. Other times, lip pursing is done to show outright disagreement. Usually the eyebrows will frown in unison with pursed lips. Lip pursing is a very reliable indicator of different thought processing, and it would be foolish to ignore it. The reverse to lip pursing-judgment is full-lips which indicates contentment. Watch the lips for these quick flashes will tell you a lot about what is going on inside someone’s head. In review, compressed lips show stress, u-shaped mouth shows high stress, pursing shows that a person is considering an alternative or when accompanied by frowning or additional negative cues, disagreement.