Study Reveals Origins of Facial Expressions

Why do our eyes widen when afraid and narrow to slits when disgusted?

Research findings by Cornell neuroscientist Adam Anderson suggest that human facial expressions arose from universal, adaptive reactions to environmental stimuli and not originally as social communication signals, lending support to Charles Darwin’s 19th-century theories on the evolution of emotion.

Anderson is an associate professor of human development in Cornell’s College of Human Ecology.

Manipulating Emotions – The Effects of Social Media


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Forbes: Entrepreneur delves into what really motivates people in this day and age!  How can people, companies, and groups spur us into action?

There are plenty of options: advertising, marketing, and of course the ever popular and influential social media.  It has been revealed long ago that influencing one’s emotions can in turn affect their actions.

Many of us think of Facebook when we think of social media and influencing emotions, especially in light of the recent news regarding Facebook’s experiment in manipulating their user’s emotions by removing all of the positive or negative posts from certain user’s feeds.  Right or wrong, using emotions to control our actions is not recent news and many companies are now taking this to the next level.

According to Forbes’ article, Participant Media, which makes films that promote progressive causes and informs audiences in an effort to spur action, is currently working with Knight Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism to create a brand new way to measure this impact.

The company is banking on the overwhelming evidence that story-telling touches our emotions as well as our intellects.  Which strategies are more effective in galvanizing a viewer is the real question.

The Times also commented on this new way to measure the impact of social media,

Participant created an evolving index that compiles raw audience numbers for issue-driven narrative films, documentaries, television programs and online short videos, along with measures of conventional and social media activity, including Twitter TWTR +0.32% and Facebook presence. The two measures are then matched with the results of an online survey, about 25 minutes long, that asks as many as 350 viewers of each project an escalating set of questions about their emotional response and level of engagement. Did it affect you emotionally? Did you share information about it? Did you boycott a product or company? Did it change your life?

This Index will score films on whether they move people to take action, from sharing media on social channels to getting involved. However, Jay Rosen , a NYU journalism professor, purports,

Action and behavior are not the same thing at all. One is a conscious choice, the other a human tendency. There’s a tension, then, between commercial behaviorism, which may be deeply functional in some ways for the news industry, and informing people as citizens capable of understanding their world well enough to improve it, which is the deepest purpose of journalism.

It is important for corporate marketing specialists, especially in a consumer driven society, to know if what they are doing is working. The bigger question is, is taking the art of manipulating our emotions to the next level really what we want to do.

PsychCentral also has a similar article on how social sharing influences our emotions.

First Impressions

Woman Looking up at Man - Agree to Disagree: Men and Women - Humintell

We’ve always been toldDon’t judge a book by its cover, but in fact research shows that, that is exactly what our brains are programmed to do.

LiveScience comments on new findings that identify which facial features influence how others first perceive a person.  Are you perceived as trustworthy, attractive, dominant? Scientists purport that these judgments are formed with in milliseconds of seeing a person’s face.

This kind of research can help determine what facial expressions would help give the best first impressions.

Study co-author Tom Hartley, a cognitive neuroscientist and psychologist at the University of York in England, noted that previous research found that the many different judgments characterizing first impressions tend to fall along three underlying dimensions.  One is approachability — do they want to help me or to harm me? The next is dominance — can they help or harm me? The last is youthful-attractiveness — perhaps representing whether they would be a good romantic partner or rival.

Unfortunately, many people take their judgments from first impressions and run with them whether they are true reflections of the person’s character or not. Even though we know that we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover or a person by their face, we all have.

Hartley pointed out that  it is very useful to know how your being judged (accurately and not) by your appearance especially in instances of court cases, or elections.

For this study, Hartley and his colleagues had participants rate their first impression of 1,000 photographs taken  from the internet.  They rated them on traits such as attractiveness, trustworthiness, and dominance.  The faces used were further broken down by the researchers into 65 features from jaw and  mouth shape to eyebrow shape.

An artificial intelligence software was used to analyze these features and their first impression ratings.  “Our results suggest that some of the features that are associated with first impressions are linked to changeable properties of the face or setting that are specific to a given image. Hartley went on to note that 

We know that people process faces of other ethnicities differently from their own — this might be because of cultural stereotypes, but also more subtle things such as the level of experience we have with different kinds of variation in the face.  As it’s not practical to incorporate faces and judges from every possible geographic, cultural and ethnic background, we instead try to keep these factors fixed by focusing on one ethnic and cultural group at a time. We can then investigate the ways in which different groups rely on different facial features and perhaps reach different social judgments in a step-by-step way.

Mouth shape and area were linked to approachability; a smiling expression is a key component of an impression of approachability.  Attractiveness was judged by the eye shape and area; large eyes were closely linked to a youthful appearance. Dominance had features indicating a masculine face shape, such as eyebrow height, cheekbones, as well as color and texture differences that may relate to either masculinity or a healthy or tanned overall appearance.

Share Your Love, Spend Some Time

A reminder that Love and Happiness are a product of the time you spend with the ones you love AND who love you! 

 One of the best gifts in life that you give to your family…is TIME

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Reading Our Brain’s Emotional Code

w-liedectector   “We discovered that fine-grained patterns of neural activity within the orbitofrontal cortex, an area of the brain associated with emotional processing, act as a neural code which captures an individual’s subjective feeling,

purported Adam Anderson, associate professor of human development in Cornell University’s  College of Human Ecology and senior author of the study, “Population coding of affect across stimuli, modalities and individuals,” which was  published online June 22 in Nature Neuroscience.

This STUDY noted that even though feelings are subjective, our brains turn our emotions into a standard code that objectively represents emotions across different senses, situations and even people

Researchers presented 16 participants with a series of images and tastes and analyzed their brains responses to these subjective experiences via functional neuroimaging.  This specialized neuroimaging technology, representational similarity analysis, is able to analyze a the spatial patterns of a person’s brain activity across populations of neurons rather than the traditional approach of assessing activation magnitude in specialized regions.

It appears that the human brain generates a special code for the entire valence spectrum of pleasant-to-unpleasant, good-to-bad feelings, which can be read like a ‘neural valence meter’ in which the leaning of a population of neurons in one direction equals positive feeling and the leaning in the other direction equals negative feeling, Anderson explains.

The study was atypically small, but the authors noted that the representation of our internal subjective experience is not confined to specialized emotional centers.

The findings showed that similar subjective feelings – whether evoked from the eye or tongue – resulted in a similar pattern of activity in the OFC, suggesting the brain contains an emotion code common across distinct experiences of pleasure (or displeasure), they say. Furthermore, these OFC activity patterns of positive and negative experiences were partly shared across people.

Despite how personal our feelings feel, the evidence suggests our brains use a standard code to speak the same emotional language, Anderson concluded.


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