The human face is a remarkably expressive palette. Virtually the instant that we see someone, we have a sense of how they�re feeling. Their subsequent words may modulate our initial impression, though we largely read emotion through microscopic changes in facial expression. These flickers and flashes of expression provide a moment-by-moment dialogue in our interactions with others.
|Facial Expression says a lot.|
The scientific literature is dense with research on nonverbal communication, and I�ve heard respected scientists cite that fully 92% of our communication occurs nonverbally. Whether or not the figure is 92%, 78% or even 57%, it appears as though humans communicate more through movement and expression than through the sophistication of our words, turns of phrases and/or witty bon mot.
Put another way, communication is embodied. Bodies communicate to bodies, and we can almost consider words the supporting players in the sophistication of human communication. For example, primates (including humans) perceive the feelings of other primates by mirroring their facial expressions. When I see you, my face will quickly match your face. By experiencing in my face the countenance of your face, I can literally feel what you�re feeling. And by feeling what others feel, empathy naturally arises. The capacity to empathize is literally hardwired into us.
Relatedly, deficits in making facial expressions have been shown to produce deficits in reading the emotional state of others. An interesting study looked at deficits in reading emotion in people who had received Botox injections. Botox reduces facial wrinkles by paralyzing the facial muscles that underlie the wrinkles. When someone who has received Botox treatments is shown an emotionally laden image of a face, they are far slower to identify what the pictured person is feeling. By losing their use of some facial muscles, the Botoxed people are less able to perceive what others are feeling.
Faces are remarkably communicative, and I�ve been paying more attention to the complexity of countenance in recent weeks. The muscles around the eyes, mouth and nose, in particular, tell us so much about the inner life of others.
In coming weeks, I�ll be writing more about the human face and its neural control. This is in preparation for my forthcoming Blue Mounds Dharma Center retreat, Yoga, Cardiac Control and Well-Being.