MadSci Network: Neuroscience

Re: Information on Left/Right Sides of Human Faces (Physiognomy)

Date: Wed Mar 31 14:57:41 1999
Posted By: joshua rodefer, Post-doc/Fellow, behavioral biology, harvard medical school-nerprc
Area of science: Neuroscience
ID: 919047430.Ns

Hi Megan,

Sorry for the delay, but I have been unable to find out much about the 
specific study you refer to in your question.  A medline search of  
"physiognomy" and "Pennsylvania" only turned up one article from the 
University of Pittsburgh - which wasn't anywhere near your description.  

Perper JA, et al. 
Face imaging reconstructive morphography. A new method for 
physiognomic reconstruction. 
Am J Forensic Med Pathol. 1988 Jun;9(2):126-38.

Searching for "physiognomy" and "stress" wasn't any better - two articles, 
but one in French, and the other in Romanian.  Neither seemed relevant -- 
so I didn't try translating them for you ;-)

So I'll try to fill you in on other information on the general topic of 
your question of facial muscle use.

One early scientific work on this topic was done by someone that might 
surprise you - Charles Darwin.  In 1872 he published " The expression of 
the emotions in man and animals" where he attempted to catalogue the 
expressions of humans and other animals and relate them to what he thought 
of as distinctive emotional states.  He was one of the first scientists to 
view facial emotions as information that was communicated to other 
individuals (human or animal).

More recently, Paul Ekman has been one of the major investigators in this 
arena of biopsychology.  His research group has done a lot of work over the 
years to characterize and describe facial expressions of various human 
cultures in an objective fashion (important for interpretation).  Simply 
put, Eckman and colleagues contend that there are seven (7) basic human 
emotions that are conveyed through facial muscles, and they are: anger, 
sadness, happiness, fear, disgust, surprise, and contempt.

The really interesting thing about this finding is that Eckman's research 
group found these emotions across all the human cultures they studied.  For 
example, if you were to make these facial expressions, a person in New 
Guinea or in South America, or in China would interpret your facial 
expression as the correct emotion.  This suggests that there is some 
'universality' of emotions across human cultures.   However this work 
hasn't been accepted without criticism - Fridlund has suggested that 
emotions might not be as biological as Ekman believes.  Rather, Fridlund 
believes that there are a number of emotions that occur specifically in 
social situations where there is a very social context to them that you 
can't interpret with a simple biological viewpoint.

As far as other general information goes, facial expressions are very 
complex - involving numerous muscles, two different cranial nerves, and a 
number of different pathways in the central nervous system.  Some people 
believe that voluntary facial movement (chewing, sticking our tongue out, 
raising our eyebrows) are very different from facial movement that is 
driven by emotion.   This distinction comes from examining individuals who 
have damaged their motor cortex part of the brain (by way of accident or 
stroke).  When asked to retract the corners of their mouths, they often 
have difficulty.  However if you tell them a joke, they smile and laugh 
quite naturally (and in smiling, they retract the corners of their mouth). 
Folks with Parkinson's disease who have damage to subcortical regions of 
their brain (eg, basal ganglia) often show the reverse syndrome - they can 
move muscles voluntarily, but don't have any spontaneous emotional 
expression of the face.   (I think these types of neurological studies are 
really interesting!).

As far as your own study goes, I would suspect you might find interesting 
individual differences from taking split face photos and then recomposing 
them into L and R sided faces.  Most individuals have very asymmetrical 
faces, as well as facial expressions (ie, the smile is stronger on one side 
than the other, or the eyes open more or less on one side).  But as to 
whether all individuals show more or greater (or earlier) muscle movement 
on the left side - your guess is as good as mine (although I would play 
'devil's advocate' and say that you probably won't find consistent 
differences across large numbers of people).

I hope this helps somewhat - I've enclosed some references for your reading 
pleasure.  Although they may be a little over a junior-high school head, 
you might also want to look up the topic 'facial expression and emotions' 
in a physiological psychology or biopsychology textbook as a better 
overview.  Neil Carlson's textbooks have always been favorites of mine.

Best of luck.

Josh Rodefer, Ph.D.
Harvard Medical School

Ekman, P (1973).  Darwin and faical expression; a century of research in 
review. Academic Press: New York.

Ekman, P (1981).  Methods for measuring facial action.  In K. Scherer and 
P. Ekman (eds.) "Handbook on methods of nonverbal communications research." 
 Cambridge University Press, New York.

Ekman, P., and Davidson R.J. (1994). The nature of emotion: Fundamental 
questions.  Oxford University Press, New York.

Ekman, P. et al. (1983). Autonomic nervous system activity distinguishes 
among emotions. Science, vol 221, p, 1208-1210.

Fridlund, A. (1988). What can asymmetry and laterality in EMG tell us about 
the face and brain?  International Journal of Neuroscience, vol 39, p 

Fridlund, A. (1994). Human facial expression: An evolutionary view. 
Academic Press, San Diego.

Gilbert, A. N. et al (1986).  Olfactory discrimination  of mouse strains 
and major histocompatability types by humans.  Journal of Comparative  
Psychology, vol 100, p 262-265.

Kraut, R.E., and Johnston, R.E. (1979). Social and emotional messages of 
smiling: An ethological approach.  Journal of Personality and Social 
Psychology, vol 37, p 1539-1533.

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