Philippe Sommet, Face of Fear

Here, I posted an article on the facial expression of fear. The authors of the study, Adam Anderson and Joshua Susskind (University of Toronto) argue that the facial expression of fear 

increases our range of vision, speeds up eye movement and improves air flow through the nose. All  of these reactions boost our ability to see or smell threats and prepare ourselves for the “fight or flight” response, where we either battle it out with our attacker or take to our heels.

This result suggests that the facial expression of fear does not exist merely to accurately express fear. The facial expression of fear exists rather to promote the survival of the individual organism. But, the adaptive value of fear points beyond the biological individual (the signaller) to include benefits concerning the onlooker. One benefit to onlookers may be information about possible danger. This is contrasted with the resource costs of signalling and the potential danger of increasing vulnerability to the signaller.

The blend of benefits and risks for the facial expression of fear (fear-behavior) suggests that it may be adaptive for a species to modify the intentsity of its fear expression. Control in the individual in fear over the amplitude of fear expression in the face permits planned use of the expression; the ability of the onlooker to make distinctions between degrees of fear may be beneficial.

Hence, the facial expression of fear is a social phenomenon, a dimension not investigated in Anderson’s study. It is always part of a ‘form of life’, to use Wittgenstein’s term, and in this setting it is connected logically to many significant activities concerned with caregiving and care-solicitation, responsibility and kindness toward others.

If the facial expression of fear is a social phenomenon, is the meaning of fear founded on the use of fear in that context? (cf. Philosophical Investigations 43) As opposed to what? As opposed to its reference to a private ‘fear sensation’. That is to say, the facial expression of fear does not function to picture a private sensation or feeling. This means the sensation of fear does not cause the facial expression of fear.

Advertisements