The Complexity of the Human Face and Emotions

Guy laughing and Squinting - The Complexity of the Human Face - HumintellHumans learn at a very young age to distinguish faces.  In fact, studies have shown that an infant will pay closer attention (i.e. stare longer) at a face than any other object, no matter how colorful.

The human face plays an important role when answering the question what is it that makes humans different from all other animals?

Many scientists remark that humans have the most expressive face on the planet.

ABC News reports that this probably played a role in the previously accepted idea that we are the most emotional complex animals simply because scientists could not see such expressive emotions in other species.

The article goes on to point out that no other species has evolved the intricate web of facial nerves that we humans have or have the eloquence of the movement of 52 separate facial muscles.

So, the complexity of the human face is unique and allows for diverse and complex emotional facial expressions.  But are we the only species that have such deep emotional responses to our environments?

Scientist Jaak Panksepp, set out to answer that question in his lab at Washington State University. His species of choice, no surprise, rats.

This field of study is relatively new and is coined “Affective Neuroscience”, which traces the pathways of feelings and moods, conscious and unconscious, in brains, nerves and behavior in many species, including us.

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What he and his colleagues found was that when tickled, rats emit a high pitched giggling.  They would  also follow the hand that “tickled” them around seeming to want more further suggesting that the act of being “tickled” was enjoyable.  They do seem to be responding emotionally to stimuli in their environments.

However, unlike the seven universal facial expressions of emotion, we cannot expect our facial expressions to be universal across species.  Therefore, what we might interpret on a chimpanzee as joy could in fact be an expression of fear.

In a connection to a recent blog, posted on the 26th of this month, this article went on to report that the famous and brilliant Jane Goodall also suffered from Prosopagnosia, a difficulty in face recognition.

Read the entire article to find out more information on the human face and one reason why men have evolved to have big bushy beards while women have remained, for the most part, free of facial hair.

2 responses to “The Complexity of the Human Face and Emotions”

  1. anon says:

    This question is the the humintell team. It’s kinda off topic though. I know the various forms of mixed facial expressions when it comes to smiles. One type though, always throws me off and wanted to get your opinion on it. It’s the smile where people scrunch up their face (sometimes they close their eyes as well). I’ve always attributed it to a social smile w/ disgust. However, the whole face gets involved, not only the nose area, but the muscles around the eyes as well. So I don’t feel like it’s a disgust/smile.

  2. Hi Anon, You should strongly consider purchasing our MiX Professional or MiX Elite online training. Your question above is answered directly and actually a portion of the training is dedicated to that. The trainings also include information about the evolutionary vestige of each emotion (where that emotion comes from) as well as associated nonverbal behaviors, FACS codes, and universal triggers.

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