The Echoes of the Mind (137-5-1) The Face

 The Face

The features of our face are hardly more than gestures which force of habit has made permanent. ~ Marcel Proust

In its sublime expressiveness, the furless face of humans is a rich source of information, the eyes especially so. The face is more than a mere window into an emotional world: it is the primary evolved channel for interpersonal communication.

Face processing in newborns is relatively well-developed and does not differ significantly from that seen in adults. ~ Italian psychologist Teresa Farroni et al

 Facial Expressions

There are no blank facial expressions. ~ Peter Anderson

As with other aspects of nonverbal communication, facial expressions are rooted in biology. That withstanding, certain facial expressions are culturally engendered, others tolerated, and some suppressed.

Infants only a few days old pay attention to objects that look like faces. By 6 months, preference for faces is pronounced. Furthermore, babies reflexively smile at faces. But an infant will not smile at a face with the eyes, or even one eye, covered.

There are 8 innate emotive facial expressions that appear to carry universal meaning: happiness, sadness, fear, anger, surprise, disgust, contempt, and embarrassment.

Facial expressions are a social phenomenon. Smiling, for instance, occurs primarily in the presence of others, not merely as a reflection of internal emotional state.

Without wearing any mask we are conscious of, we have a special face for each friend. ~ American physician and poet Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.


The more involved a person is in socially interacting the more smiles appear. The more positive the smile the more that person is esteemed. Even infants less than a year old use anticipatory smiles to share positive emotions.

Emotion does not leak out into the interpersonal world. Instead, intentions are shared, transmitted, or coordinated between faces. ~ English psychologist Brian Parkinson

A certain pattern of smiling relates to culture. Cultures may have different display rules: folkways which dictate how individuals should express themselves. Display rules are often related to social distance, which is the expectation of privacy in a social setting.

In the US and many other countries, smiling is a common gesture of good will. The relatively low baseline social trust of strangers and high social distance of white Americans is offset somewhat by smiling as a signal of ingratiation.

By contrast, Russians, with a higher sense of social trust, have a closer social distance than Amereicans. Smiling is less a necessity as a social grace.

Russian mothers report their infants more likely to exhibit negative emotions, and show lower levels of positive emotive expression, than American mothers of their babies. This may well be because Russian mothers are more themselves around their children, not putting on the smiling pretense that American mothers indulge their babies with.

American offspring learn early that smiling is an important social cue: one that doesn’t necessarily reflect true feeling but serves as a social signal. Russian youngsters don’t learn that lesson about smiling.

American toddlers more likely to express positive emotions have better self-control. There is no such correlation in Russian youngsters between inclination to smile and self-control.

The payoff for smiling young Americans is considerable. American parents and teachers generally think better of grinning children. Russian caregivers don’t see any link between a kid who smiles a lot and their manners or acumen.


Although facial expressions are primarily innate, their displays become managed through cultural upbringing. Children also learn that feigned emotion displays can be effective in certain contexts. As well they discover to discern between genuine smiles and those that are counterfeit.

Facial affect management comes via 5 display rules:

1) simulation: showing feelings when they are not felt,

2) intensification: displaying more than felt,

3) diminution: displaying less than felt,

4) inhibition: not showing what is felt, and

5) masking: covering one feeling with display of another.

Although these rules are acquired early, they are typically not mastered until adulthood, if at all.

As a product of upbringing, cultures differ in their degree of facial expressivity. Year-old Chinese babies are less emotionally expressive than Japanese, European, or American infants.

As a social norm in most cultures, part of supposed emotional maturation into adulthood is learning to lessen display of emotions. This is particularly true for men.

As freedom is a paramount value in individualistic cultures, emotive facial expressions are spontaneously displayed. In contrast, in collectivist cultures, such as in northeast Asia, facial expressions are moderated. People from collectivist cultures are also less likely to recognize certain facial expressions, especially negative ones, as display rules proscribe their production.