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ID 866

Dissect-a-Face

Description:
Distinctive universal expressions have been identified for joy, sadness, anger, fear, and disgust. Most textbooks agree that these five plus surprise are common to all cultures.
Transcript:
Thirteen years after he published The Origin of Species, Charles Darwin published The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals, which argued that emotions and their expression are not unique to humans. Darwin devised a number of principles for comparing emotions in humans and other species – serviceable habits, antithesis, direct action of the nervous system. His observations suggest that certain expressions are shared not only across cultures, but also across species as well, and his conclusions continue to generate debate even today. Although quite radical in its day, The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals was perhaps always destined to become a footnote to Darwin’s other works. By the early twentieth century, the prevailing view was that facial expressions were learned in childhood and were unbound by universal principles. Darwin’s hypothesis remained largely forgotten for decades until a series of publications by psychologist Paul Ekman reignited the debate. Although somewhat controversial in some aspects, Ekman’s cross-cultural research is definitive in concluding that the ability to read and make certain faces is universal and are biologically determined. Distinctive universal expressions have been identified for joy, sadness, anger, fear, and disgust. Most textbooks agree that these five plus surprise are the fundamental universal facial expressions that are common to all cultures. However, there is a growing body of evidence that expressions of interest and contempt may also be universally shared. The very fact that these hypotheses have generated such debate underlines how difficult it is to disentangle the social and biological aspects integral to reading faces. Clearly, the ability to read expressions is integral to our ability to socialize. When we lose this ability, as is the case in many individuals with autism, this can have a devastating impact on our ability to form social bonds. Use the Dissect-a-Face tool on the next page to explore the implicit clues which most use to read expressions. You can also recreate new expressions by combining different eyes and mouths.
Keywords:
face, facial expressions, emotions, reading faces, joy, sadness, anger, fear, surprise, disgust, darwin, expression of emotions, man, animals
Creative Commons License This work by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

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