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A facial expression results from one or more motions or positions of the muscles of the face. These movements convey the emotional state of the individual to observers. Facial expressions are a form of nonverbal communication. They are a primary means of conveying social information among humans, but also occur in most other mammals and some other animal species.
Humans can adopt a facial expression as a voluntary action. However, because expressions are closely tied to emotion, they are more often involuntary. It can be nearly impossible to avoid expressions for certain emotions, even when it would be strongly desirable to do so; a person who is trying to avoid insult to an individual he or she finds highly unattractive might nevertheless show a brief expression of disgust before being able to reassume a neutral expression. The close link between emotion and expression can also work in the other direction; it has been observed that voluntarily assuming an expression can actually cause the associated emotion.
Some expressions can be accurately interpreted even between members of different species- anger and extreme contentment being the primary examples. Others, however, are difficult to interpret even in familiar individuals. For instance, disgust and fear can be tough to tell apart.
Because faces have only a limited range of movement, expressions rely upon fairly minuscule differences in the proportion and relative position of facial features, and reading them requires considerable sensitivity to same. Some faces are often falsely read as expressing some emotion, even when they are neutral, because their proportions naturally resemble those another face would temporarily assume when emoting.
- ...the young and the old of widely different races, both with man and animals, express the same state of mind by the same movements.
Still, up to the mid-20th century most anthropologists believed that facial expressions were entirely learned and could therefore differ among cultures. Studies eventually supported Darwin's belief to a large degree, particularly for expressions of anger, sadness, fear, surprise, disgust, contempt, happiness and caring.
The people of New Guinea called South Fore were chosen as subjects for one such survey. The study consisted of 189 adults and 130 children from among a very isolated population, as well as twenty three members of the culture who lived a less isolated lifestyle as a control group. Participants were told a story that described one particular emotion; they were then shown three pictures (two for children) of facial expressions and asked to match the picture which expressed the story's emotion.
While the isolated South Fore people could identify emotions with the same accuracy as the non-isolated control group, problems associated with the study include the fact that both fear and surprise were constantly misidentified. The study concluded that certain facial expressions correspond to particular emotions, regardless of cultural background, and regardless of whether or not the culture has been isolated or exposed to the mainstream.
Some examples of feelings that can be expressed are:
The muscles of facial expression
See also: facial muscles.
- Auricularis anterior muscle
- Buccinator muscle
- Corrugator supercilii muscle
- Depressor anguli oris muscle
- Depressor labii inferioris muscle
- Depressor septi nasi muscle
- Frontalis muscle
- Levator anguli oris muscle
- Levator labii superioris muscle
- Levator labii superioris alaeque nasi muscle
- Mentalis muscle
- Nasalis muscle
- Orbicularis oculi muscle
- Orbicularis oris muscle
- Platysma muscle
- Procerus muscle
- Risorius muscle
- Zygomaticus major muscle
- Zygomaticus minor muscle
- Facial Expression at Nonverbal World
- Chimpanzee Facial Expression & Vocalizations
- Dog Laughter Vocalization Spectrograph
- Facial Expression Repertoire
- The Naked Face, August 5, 2002. Annals of Psychology
- Facial Expressions Resources Page
- JAFFE database Freely available database of facial expressions
- Artifacial Expression Computer-controlled human facial expression as art
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