We Only Have Four Facial Expressions!


Humans have very complex, deep, and nuanced
emotions. Bummer our face doesn’t show them at all [Music] Anthony Carboni here for DNews and you can
usually tell how someone is feeling by their facial expression. Or at least it seems that
way- but really we take in tons of other emotional clues when we’re trying to find out how someone
feels. There’s a commonly held theory that across all cultures, humans actually only
have six different emotional facial expressions: happiness, sadness, fear, anger, surprise,
and disgust. All this is based on some research by a psychologist
named Paul Ekman based on a theory by Charles Darwin- Darwin thought people worldwide must
manifest emotions in the same way, and Ekman traveled around the world asking people from
all types of cultures to show him those emotions- and the expressions matched. He called it
the Basic Emotion model, and he said that he could even use it to recognize a liar by
the difference between an actual expression and the microexpressions made by someone attempting
to mimic them without the actual feeling behind them. He even consulted with the CIA about
it in the 70s to help their interrogators. The research has been pretty widely accepted
since it debuted in 1969, but certain studies have shown otherwise. One showed people pictures
of two scowling faces and asked “Hey, do these people feel the same way?” The answer wasn’t
always yes. Another showed people an angry face, but didn’t give them “angry” as a choice.
Those people were perfectly happy to choose “disgust” or “contempt” instead. Sounds like we might be too complex to fit
into a model. But what if the model is actually too complex for our faces. New research by
the University of Glasgow says we’ve actually got four emotions that we universally express.
Happiness and sadness are two of them. But fear and surprise are the same, and anger
and disgust are the same. The study says that all humans begin with
the same simple expressions of biologically-rooted signals. All the other details are added depending
on the culture and society we live in. Smiling is always happy, frowning is always sad. Scrunching
our nose is the beginning of anger and disgust, and comes from a basic need to show something
displeasing or dangerous is happening. It also stops us from inhaling harmful particles. Fear and surprise start the same, with widening
eyes- take in more visual information, assess your situation, look for a potential escape. After those four basic reactions, everything
else actually is cultural. As we spread out across the world, we created much more nuanced
expressions to fit our societies. Studies show that Asian cultures use the eyes much
more to identify emotion, while Europeans use their mouths much more. I went to Russia last year and people told
me I was smiling too much, that it looked fake. I don’t know if that’s because I’m American
or because they see what a sham I am. Have you ever visited somewhere and had your emotions
misread?

About the Author: Earl Hamill

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