From the Daily Bruin, April 2, 2008

Ashleigh Berger, a third-year biochemistry student, said she likes how her boyfriend wears his heart on his sleeve or, rather, on his face.

Facial language, a form of nonverbal communication, applies to the communication of daily life.

Six facial expressions and their related emotions are categorized as universal by psychologists: happiness, anger, fear, disgust, surprise and sadness.

A means by which one can determine whether or not a facial expression is universal is to see if blind and preliterate populations express the face of its associated emotion, said Robert Levenson, a psychology professor at UC Berkeley.

Examples of emotions that are not universally recognized in association with a specific face are contempt, embarrassment and interest, Levenson said.

Differences between some emotions, such as fear and surprise, are more subtle, so they are more difficult to distinguish from only a picture of a face, said Irving Biederman, a professor of psychology, neuroscience and computer science at the University of Southern California.

There is considerable evidence that the smile expresses happiness in all cultures, Biederman said.

Smiles are more common than any other facial expression, and smiles are the easiest to identify from long distances. A smile is also an influential form of positive communication, Levenson said.

“Smiles build a sense of safety and a sense of likability. … It communicates safety,” he said.

It is not always true that when a person smiles, he or she is happy, however.

Two muscles are used to smile. One muscle lifts the cheeks and the other raises the corners of the lips. Genuine smiles use both of the muscles. False smiles only use the latter, Levenson said.

Berger says that she could detect this obvious difference between false and genuine smiles. Genuine smiles involve more than the mouth; they also involve the cheeks. In addition, she notices that in genuine smiles, the eyes light up, she said.

Also, some emotions conveyed through facial language are expressed less frequently among different cultures.

One reason why this is the case is that the specific emotion could be inappropriate to specific customs. For example, if a culture believes that expressing anger is not proper, people will try to hide their anger, Levenson said.

Individuals are also capable of suppressing their display of emotions.

“Our normal, default expression has some animateness. A neutral face, where the muscles are slack, actually expresses sadness,” Biederman said.

Nonetheless, facial language is overall an important form of communication.

A study shows that recordings of conversations between successful married couples involve exchanges of smiles between the partners, Levenson said.

Facial communication is very essential because it allows one to read between the lines. The eyes cannot lie, Berger said.

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