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Photographs from the 1862 book Mécanisme de la Physionomie Humaine by Guillaume Duchenne. Through electric stimulation, Duchenne determined which muscles were responsible for different facial expressions. Charles Darwin would later republish some of these photographs in his own work on the subject, which compared facial expressions in humans to those in animals.


A facial expression results from one or more motions or positions of the muscles of the face. They are closely associated with our emotions. Charles Darwin noted in his book The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals:

...the young and the old of widely different races, both with man and animals, express the same state of mind by the same movements.

In the mid-20th century most anthropologists believed that facial expressions were entirely learned and could therefore differ among cultures, but studies (eventually with people of the Papua New Guinea highlands who had not been in contact with the outside world) have supported Darwin's belief to a large degree, particularly for expressions of anger, sadness, fear, surprise, disgust, contempt and happiness. Research has also shown that consciously making expressions can induce the corresponding emotion.

The people of New Guinea called South Fore were chosen as subjects and within the South Fore the most isolated members of the group were chosen to participate. The study consisted of 189 adults, 130 children as well as twenty three not so isolated South Fore people. This element of non-isolated people with exoposure to mainstream culture had to be included in order to produce accurate findings. Details of the study include participants listening to a story that was suppose to be describing one particular emotion, and were subsequently shown three pictures of facial expressions while the children were shown two pictures of facial expressions that were suppose to be used to match facial expression with the emotion in the story. Certain facial expressions correspond to particular emotions, reagrdless of what cultural background a person belongs to, and regardless of whether or not the culture has been isolated or exposed to mainstream culture is what the hypothesis supported. Prior research that motivated this hypothesis was conducted by Eckman and Friesen,and consisted of testing whether or not facial expressions represent specific emotions. Results include children statistically being able to more accurately identify the facial expressions to the emotions. While both the isolated and non-isolated adults of South Fore identified the description of behavior with the facial expression with the same accuracy. Problems associated with the study include both fear and surprise constantly being misidentified by subjects.

Voluntary vs. involuntary

Facial expressions are a form of nonverbal communication, and can be voluntary or involuntary. Most people's success rate at reading emotions from facial expression is only a little over 50 percent. [How to reference and link to summary or text]Microexpressions, brief flashes of a facial expression, are likely to be involuntary and unconscious, and most people do not learn to read them at all. Recognizing facial expressions uses some of the same brain systems as face recognition.

Facial expressions can convey these emotions

Types of facial expression

The muscles of facial expression

  • 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
  • modiolus
  • Nasalis muscle
  • Orbicularis oculi muscle
  • Orbicularis oris muscle
  • Platysma muscle
  • Procerus muscle
  • Risorius muscle
  • Zygomaticus major muscle
  • Zygomaticus minor muscle

See also

References & Bibliography

Key texts



  • Ekman, P. and Friesen, W.V. (1969) The repertoire of non-verbal behaviour: categories, origins, usage and coding, Semiotica 1: 49-98.
  • Ekman, P., Sorenson, E.R. and Friesen, W.V. (1969) Pan cultural elements in facial displays of emotions, Science 164: 86-8.

Additional material



External links

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