Nav: Home

The language of facial expressions

June 11, 2018

University of Miami Psychology Professor Daniel Messinger collaborated with researchers at Western University in Canada to show that our brains are pre-wired to perceive wrinkles around the eyes as conveying more intense and sincere emotions. This eye wrinkle, called the Duchenne marker, occurs across multiple facial expressions, including smiles, expressions associated with pain, and --as these researchers found--expressions of sadness.

"Since Darwin, scientists have wondered if there is a language of facial expression, a key set of what we call facial actions which have simple, basic meanings. This research suggests one key to this language is constriction of the eyes, which appears to intensify both positive and negative expressions," said Messinger.

Using a method called visual rivalry, the researchers showed study participants computer-generated avatars, one with and one without the Duchenne marker, to study which expressions our brains perceive as more important. When different images are shown in each eye, the brain alternates between these two images and will bring the image that is perceived as more relevant into perceptual awareness more often.

"When you have social interactions, you need to perceive whether a person is sincere or not," said the principal investigator on the study, Julio Martinez-Trujillo, a professor at Western's Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry. "My interest now is: what will be the results if we do this same test with people with autism spectrum disorder? They often have trouble reading out emotions from other people, so we wonder if that might have to do with their ability to read this marker for sincerity."

The investigators asked participants to rate the expressions on a scale for intensity and sincerity, and found that people systematically ranked the Duchenne smiles and Duchenne sad expressions as more sincere and intense than the non-Duchenne expressions.

The authors point out that the results are a step toward understanding the more general questions of why facial expressions contain the specific facial actions they do, and how that contributes to our understanding of emotion.

"We have been investigating this hypothesis for more than a decade and finding strong support that eye constriction intensifies positive and negative expression in infants, with others finding support for the intensification hypothesis in children," adds Messinger. "This is the first study addressing this issue in adults since Darwin's provocative observations."
-end-
The study, "Generalizing Duchenne to Sad Expressions with Binocular Rivalry and Perception Ratings," was published in the journal Emotion.

University of Miami

Related Language Articles:

Human language most likely evolved gradually
One of the most controversial hypotheses for the origin of human language faculty is the evolutionary conjecture that language arose instantaneously in humans through a single gene mutation.
'She' goes missing from presidential language
MIT researchers have found that although a significant percentage of the American public believed the winner of the November 2016 presidential election would be a woman, people rarely used the pronoun 'she' when referring to the next president before the election.
How does language emerge?
How did the almost 6000 languages of the world come into being?
New research quantifies how much speakers' first language affects learning a new language
Linguistic research suggests that accents are strongly shaped by the speaker's first language they learned growing up.
Why the language-ready brain is so complex
In a review article published in Science, Peter Hagoort, professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at Radboud University and director of the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, argues for a new model of language, involving the interaction of multiple brain networks.
Do as i say: Translating language into movement
Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have developed a computer model that can translate text describing physical movements directly into simple computer-generated animations, a first step toward someday generating movies directly from scripts.
Learning language
When it comes to learning a language, the left side of the brain has traditionally been considered the hub of language processing.
Learning a second alphabet for a first language
A part of the brain that maps letters to sounds can acquire a second, visually distinct alphabet for the same language, according to a study of English speakers published in eNeuro.
Sign language reveals the hidden logical structure, and limitations, of spoken language
Sign languages can help reveal hidden aspects of the logical structure of spoken language, but they also highlight its limitations because speech lacks the rich iconic resources that sign language uses on top of its sophisticated grammar.
Lying in a foreign language is easier
It is not easy to tell when someone is lying.
More Language News and Language 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

Teaching For Better Humans 2.0
More than test scores or good grades–what do kids need for the future? This hour, TED speakers explore how to help children grow into better humans, both during and after this time of crisis. Guests include educators Richard Culatta and Liz Kleinrock, psychologist Thomas Curran, and writer Jacqueline Woodson.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#556 The Power of Friendship
It's 2020 and times are tough. Maybe some of us are learning about social distancing the hard way. Maybe we just are all a little anxious. No matter what, we could probably use a friend. But what is a friend, exactly? And why do we need them so much? This week host Bethany Brookshire speaks with Lydia Denworth, author of the new book "Friendship: The Evolution, Biology, and Extraordinary Power of Life's Fundamental Bond". This episode is hosted by Bethany Brookshire, science writer from Science News.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Space
One of the most consistent questions we get at the show is from parents who want to know which episodes are kid-friendly and which aren't. So today, we're releasing a separate feed, Radiolab for Kids. To kick it off, we're rerunning an all-time favorite episode: Space. In the 60's, space exploration was an American obsession. This hour, we chart the path from romance to increasing cynicism. We begin with Ann Druyan, widow of Carl Sagan, with a story about the Voyager expedition, true love, and a golden record that travels through space. And astrophysicist Neil de Grasse Tyson explains the Coepernican Principle, and just how insignificant we are. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.