While conducting research on emotions and facial expressions in Papua New Guinea in , psychologist Carlos Crivelli discovered something startling. He showed Trobriand Islanders photographs of the standard Western face of fear — wide-eyed, mouth agape — and asked them to identify what they saw. Instead, they saw an indication of threat and aggression. But if Trobrianders have a different interpretation of facial expressions, what does that mean?
Frontiers | Facial Expressions, Emotions, and Sign Languages | Psychology
Facial expressions are used by humans to convey various types of meaning in various contexts. In this mini review we summarize findings on the use and acquisition of facial expressions by signers and present a unified account of the range of facial expressions used by referring to three dimensions on which facial expressions vary: semantic, compositional, and iconic. Humans perceive facial expressions as conveying meaning, but where do they come from and what exactly do they mean? Based on observations of facial expressions typically associated with emotions Darwin hypothesized that they must have had some instrumental purpose in evolutionary history. For example, lifting the eyebrows might have helped our ancestors respond to unexpected environmental events by widening the visual field and therefore enabling them to see more. Even though their instrumental function may have been lost, the facial expression remains in humans as part of our biological endowment and therefore we still lift our eyebrows when something surprising happens in the environment whether seeing more is of any value or not. Following this tradition Ekman , claimed that there is a set of facial expressions that are innate, and they mean that the person making that face is experiencing an emotion; i.
Look at the picture above. Do you think the young woman is surprised? You may be wrong. A facial expression of emotion depends not only on the face itself, but also the context in which the expression is situated.
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. Expressions he found to be universal included those indicating happiness, disgust, anger, sadness , surprise and fear.