A History on Universal Facial Expressions: The Works of Lamarck, Izard and Russell Kathleen Coyne-Boyles From the time of the ancient Greeks through to the modern age, understanding and interpreting man’s emotions and body language have been a source of both fasicnation and a point of intellectual debate. The ancient philosophers, such as Aristotle, proposed the idea that the face takes on varying appearances which are characteristic of each of the passions (or emotions) of humankind. The famous Greek masks of the theatre embody exaggerated facial expressions in order to dramatize the great joys and tragedies of human existence.
Artists throughout history have worked to capture facial expression while philosophers have debated about the forms that they take. Early evolutionary biologists such as Darwin and Lamarck questioned the origins of facial expressions of emotion. Evolutionists like Lamarck searched for answers as to how these expressions evolve or are passed down to succeeding generations. Scientists began to explore the evolution of biological functions of the facial nerves and muslces which correspond to expression of a particluar emotion..
In the modern era, American psychologists in the twentieth century began to specualate on long-held assumptions about facial expression and became fascinated by the possible universality and characteristics of certain core emotions. One of the main reasons for the fascination with facial expressionss is that humans seem to be biologically programmed to focus on the human face A child, for instance, tends to bond and communicate non-verbally with others in their surroundings by studying and often touching the face of their caregivers.
This phenomenon tends to occur across cultures. Alternatively, some expressions of emotion seem to present themselves within a specific cultural context. As a basis for further human understanding, the topic of emotion and its relation to facial expression has re-emerged into prominence in the modern field of Social Psychology. Since the 1950’s, mostly American research studies on this topic have multiplied and have paved the way for the development of instruments designed to empirically examine patterns of expression on the human face.
The early works of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck and the later works of both Carroll Izard and James A. Russell contributed greatly to the study of facial expressions. Jean-Baptiste Lamarck Jean Baptiste Lamarck was born in 1744 in the town of Bazentin, Picardy, in Northern France. He was born into an impoverished but aristocratic family which afforded him ample educational opportunities. Lamarck became what was known at the time as a Naturalist, espousing on various subjects ranging from botany to the evolution of man.
Lamarck was considered an accomplised Botanist, Biologist, Evolutionist and Academic.. Lamarck had a long career in France and wrote a number of books on these subjects. In 1778 he published his first 3 volume botanical series, Flore Francaise and in 1779 he gained membership into the French Academy of Sciences. In 1788, Lamarck was appointed Head of Botany at the Jardin des Plantes (The national garden of France). In 1793, as his academic work began to grow , he accepted an appointment at the Museum National d’Histoire as Professor of Zoology.
At this time, his body of research included extensive studies into the evolution and behavior of animals. In 1801, Lamarck published Systeme des Animaux sans Vertebres, ou Tableau General des Classes, des Ordres et des Genres de ces Animaux, focusing on invertebrate animal biology. And in 1802, his work on organizations of species, Recherches sur l’Organisation des Corps Vivants, followed. As an academic philosopher, Lamarck began to broaden his biological works to propose new theories about how animals evolved and what triggered the adaptations of a species.
In 1809, Lamarck published his famous Philosophie Zoolique, ou Exposition des Considerations Relatives a l’Histoire Naturelle des Animaux. This zoological biology work proposed evolutionary ideas as to how animals organized and adapted and how this differentiated one species from another. Also, in this work, Lamarck started to tackle man’s evolution and how a certain characterisitc may be either reinforced or discarded due to situations present in the environment.
Between 1815 and 1822, Lamarck went published his final 7-volume series, Histoire Naturelle des Animaux sans Vertebres, Presentant les Caracteres Generaux et Particuliers de ces Animaux. In Lamarck’s multi-disciplined bodies of work, he described the processes of his Use and Disuse Theory and Soft Inheritance to explain the evolutionary adaptations of certain characteristics of both man and animal. Soft Inheritance is the idea that there are certain characteristics which are acquired through inheritance. Species acquire new characterictics from influences in their environment (Lamarck, 1809).
This type of inheritance then differentiates one species from another. The inheritance of these acquired characteristics occurs due to repeated experiences. If the experience is not repeated, it may not become an acquired characteristic. This characteristic is the passed on to the next generation. An example given by Lamarck was that of a father and son. A son observes his father displaying a particular facial expression when he finds something displeasurable. The son observes both the expression and the social context within which the expression occurs.
By this type of social reinforcement, the son repeatedly observes his father’s expression of displeasure and learns to repeat it himself when he is faced with similar circumstances or a similar environment. In this way, the son inherits this soft characteristic and the facial expression becomes a feature of soft inheritance. In Use and Disuse Theory, adaptation in a species occurs because complex force drives organisms further up a ladder of increasing complexity. Then, environmental force adapts organisms to their local environment.
Adaptation evolves by using some characteristics more than others based upon differing environments. Those characteristics not used or needed as much drop off and those needed to suit a particular environment are passed on. In some ways, the so-called Ghost of Lamarck left its impressions upon Darwin and sparked a debate among evolutionary theorists as to whether characteristics like facial expressions are socially learned skills which can be inherited by the next generation or if they are universal and slowly evolving, purely biologically programmed responses to basic human survival.
Universality of Facial Expressions Darwinian thought holds that facial expressions are universal in nature and evolved in man alongside his basic struggle for survival. These facial expressions developed in order to protect and keep the species alive. One example would be that a tribe watches a woman take a bite out of a poisonous plant and observes her face as she shows disgust or pain. Watching this response, the tribe knows not to taste this plant because this facial expression has long been biologically ingrained into the brain to serve as a protective mechanism for survival of the species.
Avoiding what is bad or painful and moving toward what is good or pleasurable ensures species survival. Along with this idea of universality, certain facial expressions (determined to be core expressions of emotion) came under universal classification in the twentieth century. The most current agreed upon universal facial expressions correspond to Happiness, Sadness, Surprise, Anger, Fear, Disgust and Contempt (Izard & Malatesta, 1987). Contempt is the most recent addition thanks to decades of work by psychologist David Matsumoto (Innuit, 2013).
These universal expressions are said to be a finite, small set of expressions that must be discriminated. They are also able to be discriminated using specific features. These universal expressions refer to the internal states (usually, emotions) of people. Finally, they are largely universal in both their configuration and their meaning (Fridlund, et. al, 1987). It is interesting to note that both the ancient Greeks and American psychologists in the twentieth century described facial expressions are referring to the internal state of a person.
The Greeks would have said the expression on the face embodies the passions of the person while modern psychology would state the expression on the face describes an emotion the person is experiencing. Core facial expression types are futher subclassified into macro-expressions and micro-expressions as well as classified by degree or subtlety. Macro-expressions typically last from ? to 4 seconds in duration. These are the expressions we encounter in our daily lives dealing with other people and these occur all of the time (Innuit, 2013). Micro-expressions typically last less than ? of a second in duration.
Some studies have timed micro-expressions at an almost indiscernable 1/25 of a second in duration. This type of expression occurs when people are consciously or unconsciously trying to conceal or repress what they are feeling (Innuit, 2013). Subtle expressions are interesting because they are associated with the intensity of the emotion, and not the duration of time the emotion moves on and off the face. These typically occur when a person is just starting to experience an emotion or when an emotional response to a situation, the environment, or another person is of low intensity (Figure 2).
One example would be a photograph of a romantic couple in which one partner seems to portray a genuine smile (with a large distance between the corners of the mouth, wrinkling around the eyes and so forth) and another partner seems to display a milder or more subtle smile (slight parting of the mouth, no discernable wrinkling around the eyes, etc. ) which may indicate level of happiness, ambivalence, deceit or a mixture of emotions (Innuit, 2013). Most people report that they don’t see micro-expressions, however research has shown that people can be taught to spot these relatively easily, with training.
From the biological perspective, emotions are “classified as complex neuro-physiological systems with visceral, behavioral and reflective levels operating on biological, neurological and psychological systems and interacting with cognition, memory, problem-solving etc” (Mahlke, Minge,2008). Facial expressions refer to movements of the “mimetic musculature of the face” (Matsumoto & Ekman, 2008). Most of these muscles are controlled by the seventh cranial nerve, behind the ear on each side of the face.
This nerve comes from the brainstem between the pons and medulla (Figure 3). It has a “motor root that supplies somatic muscle fibers to the muscles of the face, scalp, and outer ear, enabling the muscle movements that comprise facial expressions” (Matsumoto & Ekman, 2008). Additionally, the upper eyelid is contolled by the oculomotor nerve and this muscle is important when discerning facial expressions of surprise, fear and anger. Several psychologists have suggested different numbers of core facial expressions of emotion, ranging from 2 to 18 categories.
But, considerable agreement is on the following: Anger, Disgust, Fear, Happiness, Sadness and Surprise (along with Matsumoto’s more recent addition of Contempt). Universality follows strictly biological lines and it states that since humans universally share the same basic core emotions, they react in similar ways. Some scholars believe that these emotions are a purely physiological responses which have evolved in us as a way for people, regardless of communication differences, to predict what other people are thinking and feeling. This was a way for our ancestors to distinguish between friend and foe. Christie & Friedman, 2004). Carroll Ellis Izard American psychologist Carrol Izard was born in New York in 1924. In 1952 he received his psychology Ph. d from Syracuse University. In his professional career he began early on to focus on human emotions following the line of Darwinian thinking. Izard is a key twentieth century proponent of the “universality of facial expressions of a limited set of emotions” (Izard, 1994). Izard’s research supports and leads credence to a discrete emotion theory he calls Differential Emotions Theory (DET).
In turn, he also developed instrumentation for measuring facial expressions called the Maximally Discriminative Affect Coding System (MAX) (Izard, 1994). Izard’s Differential Emotions Theory states that the core universal emotions are purely biologically determined emotional responses. In this way both expression and recognition are fundamentally the same for all individuals, regardless of any ethnic or cultural differences. This theory lead Izard to search for ways in which to decode patterns of facial expressions of emotion.
Coding facial expressions involves measuring both the expressive and the physiological component of each core emotion. For example, an expressive reaction such as smiling or frowning equal the facial, vocal, & postural expression that accompanies the emotion. Since these expressions differ in both electrical impulse activity and in the activation of different sets of micro-muscles in the face, each emotion is then associated with a particular pattern of expression (Izard, 1979). There are two major categories of measurement for expression of emotion.
One involves measuring facial expressions and the other measures vocal expressions. The MAX System developed by Izard measures patterns of visual expressions which are captured on stills or in short video sequences. With these methods, subtle expressions, which are invisible to the naked eye, can be measured due to discrete facial muscle activity. Micro and subtle expressions can then be quantified as facial electro-myographic activity (EMGs). This EMG activity can be assessed by determining the voltage from two electrodes placed on the skin’s surface over a particular muscle group (Cacioppo & Petty 1989).
The major advantage of non-verbal instruments is they can be used across cultures because they are not language-dependent. A second advantage is that they do not cause discomfort to participants while measurement is being conducted. In addition, these instruments appear to be more empirical and less subjective than self-report instruments as participants’ are not completing a self-assessment of their own emotional state. However, there are limitations to using non-verbal instruments to measure facial expressions of emotion. First, these instruments are reliable mainly for the limited set of between 6-8 basic or ‘core’ emotions.
Reported studies also find recognition accuracy of the instrumentation is between 60-80%. Finally, it is not currently possible to analyze mixed emotions using MAX (Desmet, in press). Discrete and Dimensional Approaches Two main theories have emerged in the Social Psychology of the twentieth century for categorizing or structuring emotions: a discrete approach, claiming the existence of universal or basic emotions (such as Carroll Izard’s work). Discrete Emotion Theory proposes the existence of historically evolved basic emotions which are universal and can therefore be found in every culture.
In contrast to the universal outlook on facial expressions and human emotions, dimensional emotion theories use dimensions rather than discrete categories to describe emotional states and facial expressions which accompany emotions. A dimensional approach assumes the existence of two or more major dimensions which are able to describe different emotions and to distinguish between them (Russell, 1980). All emotions are characterized by their valence (pleasure), arousal (activation), and dominance ( social power) in Dimensional Emotion Theory (Shahriar, 2011). James A. Russell James A.
Russell was born in Santa Monica, California in 1947. He grew up in California and completed his Ph. d in Pyschology at the University of California at Los Angeles in 1974. After graduation, he spent one year as a psychology lecturer at UCLA and then from 1975-2001 he became an assistant professor in Psychology at the University of British Columbia. In 2001, Russell became a Professor of Psychology at Boston College, where he started his well-known Emotion Laboratory. From 2003-2009, he continued supervising his lab while accepting a position as Chair of the Psychology Department at the College.
In 2010, Russell additionally became an affiliated research scholar at the Queen Mary Centre for the History of the Emotions at the University of London. Throughout the twentieth century, Dr. Russell has become an important proponent of the dimensional approach (considered to be a more Lamrackian approach) to emotion theory. In 1980, James Russell suggested that there exist additional features (or dimensions), which are not part of every emotion, but of certain emotions. Russell holds that some emotions may share the same degrees of arousal and valence but they are discrete and distinguishable in everyday life (e. . fear and anger). The accompanying facial expressions to these emotions could then be better discriminated by comparing these additional features. Russell contributed to multiple collaborative studies in interpreting facial expressions of emotions using two or more of these dimensions. Russell found that there is a basis for emotional states called a Core Effect, which corresponds to a particular neurophysiological state which is consciously accessible as feeling good or bad, energized or enervated.
Russell also discovered there is a specific ordering of words describing people’s felt emotions when he started conducting self-report studies on the structure of emotion with a two-dimensional approach. One of the main features which can determine dimensions, according to Russell, is cultural context. In his Psychological Construction of Emotion, Russell concluded that despite continuing conceptual debates about the nature of emotion; emotions are not purely universal aspects of human nature. His findings indicate emotions are artifacts of human culture.
Rusell found that if there is a universality of human emotion and its expression, then it is one of Minimal Universality. Russell discovered that attribution (recognition) of emotions from facial expressions are not purely universal across cultures. He discovered that emotions can occur without facial expressions & vice-versa. It seems to be the case that people everywhere can infer something about others from their facial behavior. However, Anger, Sadness & other semantic categories for emotion are not pan-cultural as interpretation of facial expressions and emotional context varies with culture & language.
This particularly applies to certain Asian cultures, among others. Japanese culture, for example, tends to view open facial expressions of happiness (e. g. laughing or smiling) as negative or impulsive and unwanted social behavior. Japanese children will often cover their mouths to hide a smile and tighter control over conscious facial expressions seems to be the norm. In some cultures, displays of monotone facial expression and/or vocality are both socialized and encouraged.
In one study, Japanese and Dutch emotional attitudes toward products on the market were assessed using the example of car models. Two between-culture results were found which were unexpected: the degree of emotional response to products differed by culture and the Japanese indicated higher ratings overall on pleasant emotions than the Dutch presented (Desmet, in press). If Japanese consumers experience pleasant emotions more often than their Dutch counterparts, how is it that so much of Japanese expression of emotion appears to be muted or monotone in nature?
This study finding tends to support Russell’s conclusion that emotions can and do occur without facial expressions or with less pronounced facial expressions in a specific cultural context. It seems that yes, there are core universal facial expressions of emotion but how we display these emotions does have some cultural variation. While humans universally display smiles and frowns to indicate the same emotions cross-culturally there are also instances where an emotion is felt but not expressed in the face (Russell, 1980).
There are also instances where social learning has subdued or diminished the intensity of a facial expression of emotion. Finally, humans are complex creatures and often display a mixture of emotions, which current instruments cannot measure with great accuracy (Desmet, in press). While we may be able to understand some very basic core expressions of emotion, we will need much more research into the genuine cultural differences regarding facial expression of emotions and a greater scientific complexity in interpreting mixed emotional states. Index:
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