Facial Expression

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Dimitrije E. Panfilov

The science of the human face is called prosopology. For 3,500 years the Chinese have studied and learned "to read" the human face. They call it xien mien. Ivo

Andric, a Nobel Prize winner for literature, said: "You get never tired of looking at a sky full of stars, nor from looking at the human face."


Mimic Paul Ekman



Fig. 4.1. Actress and singer showing basic emotions after her secondary facelift at the age of 54. Mimic expressions are her professional tools and must be preserved


Six Basic Emotions

Fig. 4.1. Actress and singer showing basic emotions after her secondary facelift at the age of 54. Mimic expressions are her professional tools and must be preserved

Ugly Facial Expression
Fig. 4.2. A man of 80 smiling with both lips and eyes showing a natural "Duchenne smile". A smiling face somehow cannot look ugly

Facial expression results from the play of the muscles of the face and as a form of social expression makes a decisive contribution to interpersonal communication. It relates stories and issues orders, betrays aggression, and displays affection. Our facial expression is able to convey six basic emotional states: happiness, sadness, revulsion or disgust, surprise or amazement, anger, and fear. These universal, nonverbal messages are sent subconsciously and are usually also received subconsciously. They are universal across all cultures and are interpreted in a similar way.

The 80 muscles of the face that are innervated by the seventh cranial nerve, the facial nerve, are responsible for facial expression, which itself has connections with the limbic system of the brain. This system is associated with emotions and, in evolutionary terms, belongs to the older structures of the brain. Facial expression is therefore much older than verbal communication. Some scientists speak about paralin-gual communication.

In the fight for survival, man has, amongst other things, learned to recognize the good and the bad intentions of an opponent from the latter's mimic dynamics. It is one of the most precise forms of expression that we have at our disposal.

The left half of the brain governs intellect; with it we think, speak, and write, for example. The right half of the brain is the "emotional side" and regulates creativity. With it we experience, for example, music, beauty, or grief.

When interpreting actions of facial expression, it is important to know that the two halves of the brain are connected: the left half controls the right side of the body and the right hemisphere is responsible for the left side of our body. Injury to the right side of the brain in the area of the back part of the occiput therefore results, for example, in an inability to recognize faces. It makes a tragic and shocking impression when such patients cannot even recognize, for example, the faces of their next of kin. This is called prosopagnosis.

Research on physiognomy (the study of facial expression) also led to racial prejudice and the criminalization of persons with certain facial features. The Italian psychiatrist Cesare Lombroso (1836-1909) was the founder of the branch of anthropological science that studies criminals. On the basis of systematic studies of criminals, he claimed that these individuals

Criminal Facial ExpressionsCriminal Facial Expressions

possess more physical and mental abnormalities than the rest of the population. The result of these abnormalities, according to Lombroso, is an immediate moral decline. These studies produced "Lombroso's criminal types". The psychiatrist also maintained that genius and insanity are closely related.

Modern science has now almost completely rejected his ideas, although they are still popular among the lay community which suspects a potential criminal in every ugly person. Most films, especially those from Hollywood, follow this line of black-and-white thinking when casting: the beautiful and handsome are pitted against the ugly, with the ugly usually being the bad guys.

Lombroso's contemporary and colleague, the Parisian neurologist Guillaume Benjamin Duchenne (1806-1875), used electrodes to stimulate the neuromuscular network of the face, which is in fact man's most effective signalling system. By doing so, he produced 80 different forms of facial expression.

Paul Ekman, a modern-day anthropologist from San Francisco, studied a system for coding facial expressions and discovered 44 anatomical action units. Combination of these units produce countless variations. The position of the corners of the mouth is a classic example and is often used by caricaturists. Turned up, they express cheerfulness, whereas they show sorrow or dislike when turned down. The muscle which pulls the eyebrows together consequently produces the facial expression of frowning, and wrinkling one's nose expresses rejection and inner distance. A false, half-hearted smile is produced by the contraction of only the circular muscle of the mouth, while a genuine, hearty smile requires the additional involvement of the muscles around the eyes. Ekman referred to this natural smile as the "Duchenne smile", in honour of his predecessor.

Ethologists (i.e. behavioural scientists) claim that tattooing or masquerading serves to make one appear more handsome or more beautiful, stronger, perhaps even better, and in any case different, than one is. Women "retouch" their faces with make-up, and men with a full beard would like, consciously or subconsciously, to highlight their power, strength, or virility. God, for example, is also often pictured with a full beard. A heavy beard, however, gives the face a threatening appearance and that is the main reason why most men shave nowadays. The clean-shaven man looks younger, more communicative, cleaner; no remains of food or smell get caught up in his beard. Like a beard, tinted glasses also hide the facial expression.

English psychologists from the University of Nottingham photographed freshly shaven male faces and female faces without make-up, covering the hair with neutral bathing caps. Ninety-seven percent of average test persons who were shown the photographs were able to state the correct sex of the person depicted, with a reaction time of only 0.6 s. Only when the photographs were manipulated around the eyebrows, the nose, and the beard did the success rate fall bellow 70%. It is on these parts of the face that the typical sex-related characteristics are to be found.

Ordinary people - not only actors, diplomats, salespeople, and poker players - often hide their feelings behind a facial expression which is not consistent with their feelings. In this context, it is interesting to remember the origin of the word "personality": the Latin word persona means mask. Above all, Asians are renowned for being able to hide or "mask" their emotions, especially negative ones.

The Esthetic Face
Fig. 4.5. Karl Grammer's per computer mixed faces: the "middle female face" has been found to be the most beautiful and the "middle male face" to be boring. A male face should have signs of social dominance: prominent eyebrows, nose, chin, neck, etc.

Normally we expect a facial expression as a reaction from another person to a comment we have made. As social beings, we seek emotional and expressive resonance. Sociologically speaking, facial reactions virtually have the effect of a psychotonic drug. A smile or a laugh, for example, can cheer someone up enormously, while on the other hand we regard indifferent stony faces, made as a reaction to an emotional and expressive message of ours, as insulting or offending.

The face, as a mysterious medium for conveying attraction and rejection, betrays the identity and the current emotional state of a person. Its messages are intuitively registered by the environment; sympathy or antipathy develop immediately, right at the very first meeting, and only with difficulty are later revised.

The continuous repetition of a certain facial expression "engraves" these stereotypes onto our face, so finally our life becomes mirrored by our face. This will have happened by about the age of 35 years. Both Confucius and Albert Camus wrote that by a certain age everyone is responsible for his own face.

The form of individual sections of the face is used to draw conclusions about the personality traits and the fate of a person. For this purpose the face is divided into three parts:

  1. From the hairline to the root of the nose
  2. From the root of the nose to the upper lip
  3. From the upper lip to the tip of the chin

All three parts of the face are more or less equally long, and harmonious proportions to each other are presumptive of a harmonious character. A high and

Fig. 4.6. If we compare the human being with a plant, the face would be its flower and the smile its fragrance

broad forehead in a man is a sign of sharp intelligence, although it can also be simulated by premature balding. A too-high forehead in a woman is a sign of coldness and aloofness. A low forehead, especially in a man, is said to betray primitiveness and brutality.

Large open eyes are considered to be beautiful, and for centuries women have painted their faces to make their eyes look even larger. Italian courtesans used to use eye drops to widen their pupils and make them attractive. These eye drops contained an extract of the leaves of deadly nightshade, which was also very aptly referred to as belladonna (beautiful lady). Very small eyes are accordingly equated with negative personality traits: envy, jealousy, distrust, etc. The car-diotonic digitalis was later isolated from belladonna.

A large nose in a man is said to be proof of vitality, sexual potency, courage, and ambition, whereas in women a delicate short nose represents the ideal of beauty. If the mouth is full and large, it reflects sensuality, eroticism, and sociableness, while a small mouth is a sign of a strong will, egoism, and sometimes also of arrogance.

The form of the chin is also interpreted in various ways. A chin that is either too round or too square is not associated with a family person with a peaceful disposition. People with a pointed chin are regarded as intelligent and sensitive, while a broad, square chin is said to reflect honesty, energy, and pugnacious vitality.

The Viennese ethologist Karl Grammer used a computer to compile the average female face from several women's faces. This face was subsequently judged to be more beautiful than any of the faces used to produce this mixture. In his book Signale der Liebe (Love Signals) he claims that in a woman the average face is desired for its harmony, which promises healthy descendants. While in a man, on the other hand, emphasis is placed on extremes, for example a strong jaw or neck. These details suggest social dominance. Desirable in both sexes, however, are symmetry, shiny hair, and clean skin as signs of healthiness.

Duncan Rowland from the University of St. Andrew's in Scotland has defined the prototype of the "hyperwoman". By this he means the female face according to the small-child model, the appearance of which suggests the need for protection. This facial appearance comprises a small nose, large eyes, and a short distance between eyes and chin. High curved eyebrows, somewhat hollow cheeks, and a relatively large mouth are then added to this "baby face". According to other scientists, the ideal woman is 24.8 years old, an age when the levels of the female hormone oestrogen are at their highest, the form of the breast at its most voluptuous, and the lips are at their fullest - one need only think of the pouted mouth of Brigitte Bardot.

The English naturalist Charles R. Darwin (18091882) wrote: "The men of each race prefer what they are accustomed to." In our age of visual communication at cyberspeed, on the other hand, there exists a universal aesthetic preference for how the face should look. For example, Asian women undergo surgery to create an upper-eyelid crease and thus "Europeanize" their faces, while European women sometimes have their eyelids slanted.

Fashion photographers and image creators attempt to manipulate us with their ideals of beauty. For example, Terry Landau writes that faces "are the main source of motivation to lend recognition to social, political, aesthetic, and moral ideas."

I, on the other hand, rather believe that the standardization of facial aesthetics to panethnical look should be considered undesirable. It is by all means a positive thing to strive for a face full of freshness and expressiveness and to correct unsightly deformities, but not at the price of losing the patient's own individuality. In this faceless-becoming world we gain nothing from a beautiful, but cold face. What we need is a pleasing, warm face. If man were a plant, his face would be the flower, and this flower should blossom and be fragrant.

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  • S
    When aesthetics is bad,facial expression is bad also. proof?
    4 years ago

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