Human Facial Expression. An Evolutionary View

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In response, Ekman conducted another study in which he instructed Japanese and American participants to watch a emotion provoking film. Since these consecutive studies many other researchers have also demonstrated that there a number of universally recognised facial expressions Matsumoto, , and it is now generally accepted in the scientific community that facial expressions are not culturally dependent.

Facial expression

To show this, Ekman studied Japanese and American individuals and found that when the subjects were alone in a room there were no differences in facial expression in response to a emotional provoking film. However, when authority figures were also present in the experiment, the Japanese participants were more likely to attempt to hide negative expressions with a smile Ekman, These cultural differences in displaying emotion may account for how on occasion some universal expressions might appear to differ within cultures.

Facial expressions are essential for communication and social interaction at all ages, however, they are especially important during the first few years of life when children are verbally less able to communicate. There is consistent evidence for the ability of infants to not only discriminate emotional expression, but to also produce facial expressions similar to the ones show by adults Izard, A study of emotion in young infants found that at 2.

In addition, majority of infants were able to display basic characteristics of surprise disgust, and fear Izard, Izard suggests that these facial expressions are indeed accurate indicators of the emotion that the infant is feeling at the time. Furthermore, studies have also shown that children who are blind or who become blind at a young age are still able to express feelings by smiling, crying, and glaring, representing the emotions of joy, sadness, and anger respectively Eibl-Eibesfeldt, Camras studied 5 month old Japanese and American infants and found that they produced identical expressions of anger, and also sad-anger and sad-fear combinations.

This study, not only shows that humans are born with an innate tendency to display emotions through facial expressions, but also supports the universality theory of facial expressions. The Facial Feedback Hypothesis originated from the work of Darwin who was the first to propose that stimuli-evoked physiological changes have an impact on emotion, and are not just a consequence of emotion Darwin, Tomkins conceptualised these proposals to form the bases of the Facial Feedback hypothesis which suggests that facial expressions have the ability to bring about an emotional experience in an individual Tomkins, Lanzetta found that individuals who were instructed to fake a high pain threshold whilst receiving electric shocks experienced less physiological pain responses than those who were instructed to exaggerate the pain they were feeling.

One well known study, which has since been replicated, involved participants holding a pencil in their mouths with either their lips position which would contract facial muscles involved in a frown expression , or with their teeth position that would contract the facial muscles involved in a smiling expression. Results showed that individuals who held the pencil with their teeth the smiling expression rated the cartoon more favourably than those in the other condition McIntosh, Although this study, and along with many others, favour the Facial Feedback hypothesis, there are many others that contradict this theory.

In particular, critics argue that individuals who suffer from permanent facial paralysis are still able to experience emotion Fridlund, Recently, researchers have begun to look into the effects of Botox on facial expression, with some results indicating that temporary facial paralysis has only a select effect on the processing of emotional stimuli Ochsner, , opposing the facial feedback hypothesis.

Body reactions, inconsistent speech patterns, and fidgeting are all commonly looked for signs of lying, however, what is often ignored are the many nonverbal facial signs of deception.

Behold the wrath: Psychophysiological responses to facial stimuli

In fact emotion is one of the main reasons why lies fail. Even when an individual is not lying about their emotions, there are many other emotions that occur as a result of lying such as; fear, guilt, and even excitement Yuille, Darwin was one of the first to investigate the effect of deception on facial expression, by suggesting that actions which are cannot occur voluntarily are unable to be prevented when other involuntary processes such as emotion occur.


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In essence, Darwin believed that humans were unable to prevent their true emotions or feelings from being expressed facially Darwin, In addition to micro-expressions, Ekman believes there are seven other characteristics which help to distinguish whether a facial expression is occurring voluntarily or involuntarily:. Another important behavioural cue is the distinction between enjoyment smiles and non-enjoyment smiles, as suggested by Duchenne de Boulogne It has been suggested that smiles when lying differ from involuntary smiles. Although verbal information is very useful in determining whether a person is attempting to conceal information, Ekman has shown that nonverbal signs can also provide substantial evidence for deception.

Ekman deems this one characteristic of a basic emotion- it must be universal. Other characteristics of a basic emotions include; it must be associated with a physiological response, there must be universal events in which these emotions occur, and the emotion must be able to be triggered immediately without conscious awareness following a internal or external stimuli. Dagleish and Power, Below are the six basic emotions according to Ekman, and details of their corresponding facial expressions and facial muscles.

Fear occurs when an individual interprets a situation as dangerous or threatening, either physically or psychologically. When the fear response is activated, defense mechanisms also respond.

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Anger is one of the most uncomfortable emotions to experience. Sadness is an emotion that often occurs following experiences of separation or failure, and motivates an individual to initiate whatever behaviour necessary to cease the sadness provoking stimuli. Although the emotion of sadness is often only temporary, it is usually followed by prolonged feelings of sorrow and unhappiness Reeve, Disgust can occur in response to a variety of different objects, situations, and experiences, and therefore is a very subjective emotion.

According to Reeve however, most people tend to be disgusted by things of an animal origin that can potentially spread and infect others objects. The term happiness can be referred to in terms of moods, experiences, feelings and emotions. Generally, it represents an emotional state which reflects satisfaction across many different domains of life. Surprise is the briefest of all emotions, often only lasting a few seconds, after which it is then transferred into other emotions such as fear, relief, emotion, or amusement.

Mouth drawn up at corners, wrinkled skin under the eyes, and raised check bones indicate which emotion? Individuals who do not recognise these facial expressions are prone to misinterpreting information which can have detrimental effects on social interaction Ekman, Typically, individuals with Autism have a deficit in interpreting, understanding, and responding to emotional expression Celani et al, There are hundreds of theories to suggest why individuals with Autism struggle to understand and respond to emotional expression.

One current theory, is that although individuals with Autism have the ability to perceive emotional expression, they do not give the same priority to interpreting facial expressions as typical individuals do Celani et al, This is demonstrated in studies where participants with Autism, who are asked to pair pictures of people together, have a tendency to pair pictures on the basis of non-emotional features, such as a hat Celani et al, Scientists in Singapore have developed a system which could potentially help Autistic individuals identify the emotion of others.

The system first locates the outer edges of the face, then narrows it down to crucial features, and then classify those features into corresponding emotions Teoh, Nguwi, Cho, This system is thought to help individuals to read the emotions in other through facial expressions, however, it does not teach them how to react to such emotions, a key deficit in individuals with Autism. Studies on individuals with Autism further deepens the understanding of facial expression in humans, and continual research in this area may potentially lead to effective management of emotion deficits in the Autistic population.

Begeer, S. Attention to facial emotion expressions in children with autism. Autism, 10, Camras, L. Expressive development and basic emotions. Cognition and Emotion , 6, Celani, G et al. The understanding of the emotion meaning of facial expressions in people with Autism.

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Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, Dalgliesh, T. Handbook of cognition and emotion.

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New York: John Wiley and Sons,. Darwin, C. The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals 3rd ed. New York: Oxford University Press. Duchenne, B. Paris: Bailliere; Duchenne, B. The mechanisms of the human facial expression or an electro-physiological analysis of the expression of emotions trans A.

New York: Cambridge University Press. Eibl-Eibesfeldt, I. The expressive behavior of the deaf-and-blind.


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Social communication and movement, Ekman, P. American-Japanese cultural differences in intensity ratings of facial expressions of emotion. Motivation and Emotion, 13, 2. Psychological Science, 3, 1. Darwin, Deception, and Facial Expression. Annuals New York Academy of Sciences, Nonverbal leakage and clues to deception.

Psychiatry Journal for the Study of Interpersonal Processes. Constants across cultures in the face and emotion. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 17, California: Consulting Psychology Press. Universals and cultural differences in the judgements of facial expressions of emotion. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 53, 4. Journal of Personality, 5. Frank, M. Behavioural markers recognisability of the smile of enjoyment. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 64, Fridlund, W.

Human Facial Expressions: an Evolutionary View.


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Michigan: University of Michigan. Izard, C. Innate and universal facial expressions: evidence from developmental and cross-cultural research. Psychological Bulletin, Lanzetta, J. Effects o f nonverbal dissimulation on emotional experience and automatic arousal. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 33,. Levenson, R. Autonomic nervous system activity distinguishes among emotions. Science, McIntosh Facial Feedback Hypothesis: evidence, implications, and directions. Motivation and Emotion , 20, 2. Marsh, A. The communication of emotion. New York: Guilford.

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