January 01, 2009
Facial Expressions Are Innate For Expressing Emotions

We do not learn to associate emotions with contorting our faces in particular ways.

San Francisco State University Psychology Professor David Matsumoto compared the facial expressions of sighted and blind judo athletes at the 2004 Summer Olympics and Paralympic Games. More than 4,800 photographs were captured and analyzed, including images of athletes from 23 countries.

"The statistical correlation between the facial expressions of sighted and blind individuals was almost perfect," Matsumoto said. "This suggests something genetically resident within us is the source of facial expressions of emotion."

Matsumoto found that sighted and blind individuals manage their expressions of emotion in the same way according to social context. For example, because of the social nature of the Olympic medal ceremonies, 85 percent of silver medalists who lost their medal matches produced "social smiles" during the ceremony. Social smiles use only the mouth muscles whereas true smiles, known as Duchenne smiles, cause the eyes to twinkle and narrow and the cheeks to rise.

I expect we will eventually have imaging processing software that we can use when watching politicians and other figures on TV that would let us know things like when we are seeing social smiles versus Duchenne smiles. Automated emotional interpretation such as lie detection by facial expression reading

The high point in belief that environment is the source of all behavior was reached a long time ago with B.F. Skinner. I can't believe the guy was ever taken seriously.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2009 January 01 12:52 AM  Brain Innate

Randee Cooke said at January 2, 2009 7:09 AM:

This out come should have been expected when you consider the social conditioning children receive. As a child you are taught what situations require you to falsly express an emotion that you are not feeling.

Xenophon Hendrix said at January 2, 2009 8:47 AM:

Have you read Telling Lies by Paul Ekman? I suspect you would like the book.

Ekman is an experimental psychologist (now emeritus) who taught himself both how to read micro expressions and also how to voluntarily assume them whether he was actually feeling the corresponding emotion or not.

Vince said at January 2, 2009 12:21 PM:

Randee, the whole point is that it's NOT taught, or learned. It's written into our genes. A blind child would not have learned the proper expressions, but they make them anyway.

Bob Badour said at January 3, 2009 12:08 PM:

This result on it's own would not prove that facial expressions and non-verbals are hard-wired. One could hypothesize the facial expressions are the result of conditioning by sighted parents, siblings, friends etc. reinforcing certain facial expressions verbally.

There is plenty of other evidence such as autism that non-verbals are hard-wired. Or at least, that a non-verbal capacity is hard-wired if not the specific expressions.

Vince said at January 3, 2009 10:25 PM:

Bob, what makes the evidence stand on its own is its exact similarity to sighted persons' expressions. If it were a learned behavior, there would be greater variance between the expressions, because blind people wouldn't have the same learning experiences as sighted people. Verbal reinforcement alone would not produce the near-perfect correllation.

averros said at January 6, 2009 10:56 PM:

Another case of over-specialization in science... zoologists knew for a long time that animals have emotions and facial expressions which resemble human (that's why dog owners understand their dogs).

Mammals without facial expressions are relatively rare; bears being notorious for that, which makes them really dangerous as they are prone to sudden (from the point of view of human observers) aggression. With dogs, cats, etc, one usually gets plenty of warning before the animal attacks.

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