Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Smiles and scowls 'in our genes'

The facial expressions we make to show or hide our emotions are hardwired into our brains rather than learned during life, a study has concluded. Blind and sighted athletes made the same expressions when they won and lost, US researchers found.

This, the study reported in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology study suggests, meant the expressions were not picked up by watching others. The researchers believe they could be remnants of evolutionary history.

It could be that our emotions, and the systems to regulate them, are vestiges of our evolutionary history

The idea that facial expressions are in-built is not new - scientists have suggested it since the 1960s. However, the study at San Francisco State University provides some of the strongest evidence yet to support it.

Professor David Matsumoto and his team compared 4,800 photographs, capturing the expressions of sighted and blind judo athletes at medal ceremonies at the 2004 Olympic and Paralympic Games. In each case, the faces of gold and silver medal winning athletes were scrutinised.

While the winners frequently showed genuine joy at their victory, those in the lesser medal positions often produced "social smiles" - smiles involving only mouth movement, indicating that they may be artificial rather than spontaneous. The researchers concluded that sighted and blind competitors showed or controlled their expressions in exactly the same way.

Full story here.

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