Nav: Home

The 17 different ways your face conveys happiness

January 14, 2019

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Human beings can configure their faces in thousands and thousands of ways to convey emotion, but only 35 expressions actually get the job done across cultures, a new study has found.

And while our faces can convey a multitude of emotions--from anger to sadness to riotous joy--the number of ways our faces can convey different emotions varies. Disgust, for example, needs just one facial expression to get its point across throughout the world. Happiness, on the other hand, has 17--a testament to the many varied forms of cheer, delight and contentedness.

"This was delightful to discover," said Aleix Martinez, cognitive scientist, professor of electrical and computer engineering at The Ohio State University, and study co-author, "because it speaks to the complex nature of happiness."

The differences in how our faces convey happiness can be as simple as the size of our smiles or the crinkles near our eyes, the study found.

The study also found that humans use three expressions to convey fear, four to convey surprise, and five each to convey sadness and anger.

Those are the findings of a new study published online in the journal IEEE Transactions on Affective Computing.

"Happiness acts as a social glue and needs the complexity of different facial expressions; disgust is just that: disgust," Martinez said.

The findings build on Martinez's previous work on facial expressions, which found that people can correctly identify other people's emotions about 75 percent of the time based solely on subtle shifts in how blood flow colors a person's nose, eyebrows, cheeks or chin.

In this study, Martinez and co-author Ramprakash Srinivasan, a doctoral student at Ohio State in Martinez's lab, assembled a list of words that describe feelings--821 English words, to be exact. They then used those words to mine the internet for images of people's faces. Professional translators translated those words into Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, Farsi and Russian. To avoid bias, they used each word to download an equal number of images.

They plugged the words into search engines popular in 31 countries across North America, South America, Europe, Asia and Australia, and ended up with approximately 7.2 million images of facial expressions across a variety of cultures. The study did not include countries from the African continent or other remote parts of the world because of the limited number of candid images available from those areas.

Psychologists have debated how to classify human emotion for centuries. An ancient Chinese text--dating back as early as 213 B.C., then modified over the years--described seven "feelings of men" as joy, anger, sadness, fear, love, disliking and liking.

Martinez, whose research interests intersect both engineering and the behavior of the human brain, thought there had to be more than just seven or eight.

"To think that humans are only capable of eight emotions is absurd," he said. "We are complex creatures. What about the different forms of joy? We experience the world on a much deeper level than just eight emotions."

Martinez and Srinivasan hoped to identify the facial configurations that convey emotion across cultures. Based on computer algorithms, they found that the human face is capable of configuring itself in 16,384 unique ways, combining different muscles in different ways. They took the 7.2 million images their searches yielded and sorted them into categories, looking for those that expressed emotion across cultures. Martinez figured they'd find at least a few hundred.

They found only 35.

"We were shocked," Martinez said. "I thought there would be way, way more."

Since the number of universal expressions was smaller than expected, they wondered if most expressions of emotion were culture-specific. The result of this study surprised them even more. Analysis of the same dataset of 7.2 million images showed there are only eight expressions that are used in some--but not all--cultures. These eight expressions convey positive and negative affect, but not emotion categories like joy and anger. The researchers concluded that most facial expressions of emotion are universal, that there are only a few dozen of them and that a large number of them are used to express joyfulness.
-end-
Both Martinez and Srinivasan hold appointments in Ohio State's Center for Cognitive and Brain Sciences. This research was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Human Frontier Science Program.

Contacts: Aleix Martinez, 614-688-8225; Martinez.158@osu.edu

Misti Crane, 614-292-5220; crane.11@osu.edu

Written by: Laura Arenschield, 614-292-9475; Arenschield.2@osu.edu

Ohio State University

Related Happiness Articles:

Spending on experiences versus possessions advances more immediate happiness
Consumers are happier when they spend their money on experiential purchases versus material ones, according to research from the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin.
Braces won't always bring happiness
Research undertaken at the University of Adelaide overturns the belief that turning your crooked teeth into a beautiful smile will automatically boost your self-confidence.
In China, a link between happiness and air quality
In a paper published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, a research team led by Siqi Zheng, the Samuel Tak Lee Associate Professor in MIT's Department of Urban Studies and Planning and Center for Real Estate, and the Faculty Director of MIT China Future City Lab, reveals that higher levels of pollution are associated with a decrease in people's happiness levels.
The 17 different ways your face conveys happiness
Human beings can configure their faces in thousands and thousands of ways to convey emotion, but only 35 expressions actually get the job done across cultures, a new study has found.
Explaining happiness
It is widely believed that each person finds the source of happiness within themselves and nowhere else.
Making happiness last longer
The happiness derived from a purchase may last longer for those who set broader goals for the experience.
Why economic growth does not necessarily contribute to human happiness
Economic growth in developed countries has a dual effect. On one hand, people's living standards and consumer spending are on the rise, but on the other hand, this does not necessarily make people happy and may in fact erode subjective well-being and lead to economic crises.
Can pursuing happiness make you unhappy?
Researchers have found that people who pursue happiness often feel like they do not have enough time in the day, and this paradoxically makes them feel unhappy.
Money only buys happiness for a certain amount
There is an optimal point to how much money it takes to make an individual happy, and that amount varies worldwide, according to research from Purdue University.
Couple up for long-term happiness
Being married has a lifelong effect on how content people are.
More Happiness News and Happiness Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: Meditations on Loneliness
Original broadcast date: April 24, 2020. We're a social species now living in isolation. But loneliness was a problem well before this era of social distancing. This hour, TED speakers explore how we can live and make peace with loneliness. Guests on the show include author and illustrator Jonny Sun, psychologist Susan Pinker, architect Grace Kim, and writer Suleika Jaouad.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#565 The Great Wide Indoors
We're all spending a bit more time indoors this summer than we probably figured. But did you ever stop to think about why the places we live and work as designed the way they are? And how they could be designed better? We're talking with Emily Anthes about her new book "The Great Indoors: The Surprising Science of how Buildings Shape our Behavior, Health and Happiness".
Now Playing: Radiolab

The Third. A TED Talk.
Jad gives a TED talk about his life as a journalist and how Radiolab has evolved over the years. Here's how TED described it:How do you end a story? Host of Radiolab Jad Abumrad tells how his search for an answer led him home to the mountains of Tennessee, where he met an unexpected teacher: Dolly Parton.Jad Nicholas Abumrad is a Lebanese-American radio host, composer and producer. He is the founder of the syndicated public radio program Radiolab, which is broadcast on over 600 radio stations nationwide and is downloaded more than 120 million times a year as a podcast. He also created More Perfect, a podcast that tells the stories behind the Supreme Court's most famous decisions. And most recently, Dolly Parton's America, a nine-episode podcast exploring the life and times of the iconic country music star. Abumrad has received three Peabody Awards and was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2011.