Our Game Face Is Really A Call for Help

Girl Playing Poker - Russians: A Natural Poker Face - Humintell Can the face of determination really be a subconscious call for help?

LiveScience reports on a study led by evolutionary psychologist Bridget Waller from the University of Portsmouth (UK).  Waller and her colleagues tested both chimps and children to determine if humans, the more social and cooperative species, evolved to subconsciously signal a request for help using facial expressions.

The likelihood is, in humans, that someone is going to help you, because we’re an inordinately social species,” said Waller.

The researchers performed the same experiment on both chimpanzees (ages 7 to 25) and children (ages 3 & 6).   They showed the child or chimp a transparent box that contained either a toy for the children or a banana for the chimpanzees.  They then showed them how to open the box, but then secretly locked it, making the task impossible. As the subjects spent the next two minutes trying to get the box to open, the researchers recorded the facial expressions the kids and chimps made.

The results, published in the journal Biology Letters, showed that the longer the children persisted at trying to open the box, the more they displayed a determination face — essentially, pressed-together lips and a raised chin, the sort of muscle motion that happens if you stick out your lower lip.

An interesting fact is that the chimpanzees did not show any facial expressions of determination while trying to open the box. Chimpanzees can use these same muscle movements when making an angry face, but their facial expressions were not linked to the time they spent trying to get into the box.

Further research is needed to determine whether the determination expression is innate or whether children learn to display it before age three. Waller suggest that their next step is to study whether people do, in fact respond to these determined expressions by spontaneously offering help.

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