The ability to understand facial expressions is an important part of nonverbal communication. If you only listen to what a person says and ignore what that person's face is telling you, then you really only have half the story. You might have trouble with eye contact or read too much into negative expressions on other people's faces. Although it is important to pay attention to facial expressions, remember that knowing the emotion doesn't tell you the cause.
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PUTTING on a sad face or a smile directly produces the feelings that the expressions represent, according to a new theory of how emotions are produced. This view elaborates on ideas proposed more than a century ago by Charles Darwin and William James, the philosopher and psychologist. It holds that facial expressions are not just the visible sign of an emotion, but actually contribute to the feeling itself. The theory does not propose that facial expressions are more important than thoughts or memories in prompting emotions. But it points to the physiology of facial expression as a cause of emotions in its own right. The theory has been gaining gradual support over the last decade among psychologists. Two of the strongest pieces of evidence were published separately in scientific journals this month.
A List of Facial Expressions That Convey a Range of Emotions
How do we start to make and recognize facial expressions of emotion? It turns out that this complex process starts early in infancy and continues to develop throughout our lives. They already begin to smile in social interactions by 4 weeks of age. Communication through facial expressions is a primary component in social interactions and the formulation of relationships.
The most notable research into the topic came from psychologist Paul Ekman, who pioneered research into emotion recognition in the s. His team of researchers provided their test subjects with photos of faces showing different emotional expressions. The test subjects then had to define the emotional states they saw in each photo, based on a predetermined list of possible emotions they had seen prior. Through these studies, Ekman found a high agreement across members of Western and Eastern cultures when it came to selecting emotional labels that corresponded with facial expressions.