Monday, 29 Dec, 2008 Science

Human Facial Expressions are Inborn, Study Found


A research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology states that expressions on our faces have strong connections with our genes. According to the study, facial expressions of our emotions are innate and are not gained in cultural learning.

This is the first research to show that blind people have the same facial expressions as sighted when showing certain emotions - the same facial muscles are activated. In addition, the research gives new approach into how people control their emotional displays in certain social circumstances. It states that people do not learn to manage their facial expression by examining the expressions of others.

In his analysis, David Matsumoto, San Francisco State University Psychology Professor, examined facial expressions of blind and sighted judo athletes that participated at the 2004 Summer Olympics and Paralympics. He analyzed over 4,800 images of different athletes who represented 23 countries. Matsumoto outlined that both, blind and sighted sportsmen, had the same facial expressions, according to a specific social context.

"This suggests something genetically resident within us is the source of facial expressions of emotion," he said.

One of his observations was the "social smiles" of judo athletes who received silver Olympic medal, meaning those who lost their medal match. It is interesting to note that social smiles involve only the use of mouth muscles, while during real smiles, shown when a person is really happy, also known as Duchenne smiles, the eyes of a person twinkle and narrow and the cheeks rise.

"Losers pushed their lower lip up as if to control the emotion on their face and many produced social smiles," said Matsumoto, who added that people blind from birth were unable to learn to manage their emotions with the help of visual learning, thus he figured out that there must be another mechanism involved. He presumed that human emotions and the system to control them are signs of the evolutionary ancestry.

"It's possible that in response to negative emotions, humans have developed a system that closes the mouth so that they are prevented from yelling, biting or throwing insults," he said.

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