The 16 most common facial expressions worldwide

Universal facial expressions

Facial expressions of emotion go beyond geography and culture worldwide, according to a new study. Credit: Alan Cowen

At a time when nativism is on the rise, the study reveals the universality of human emotional expression.

Whether it’s a birthday party in Brazil, a funeral in Kenya or a protest in Hong Kong, all people use variations of the same facial expressions in similar social contexts, such as smiles, frowns, grimaces and frowns, shows a new UC Berkeley study.

The findings, published today, December 16, 2020, in the journal The nature, confirms the universality of human emotional expression across geographical and cultural boundaries at a time when nativism and populism are on the rise around the world.

“This study reveals how remarkable people in different parts of the world are in the way we express emotion in the most meaningful contexts of our lives,” said study co-author Dacher Keltner, professor of psychology and founding director of UC Berkeley. Greater Good Science Center.

Researchers at UC Berkeley and Google have used machine learning technology known as “deep neural network” to analyze facial expressions in about 6 million videos uploaded to YouTube from people in 144 countries in North, Central and North America. South, Africa, Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

16 Universal facial expressions

The 16 most common facial expressions for emotional situations around the world. Credit: Alan Cowen

“This is the world’s first analysis of how facial expressions are used in everyday life and shows us that human universal emotional expressions are much richer and more complex than many scientists have previously assumed,” he said. The study’s lead author, Alan Cowen, a researcher at both UC Berkeley and Google, contributed to the development of the deep neural network algorithm and led the study.

Cowen has created an interactive online map that demonstrates how the algorithm tracks variations in facial expressions that are associated with 16 emotions.

In addition to promoting intercultural empathy, potential applications include helping people who have trouble reading emotions, such as children and adults with autism, to recognize the faces that people typically make to convey certain feelings.

The typical human face has 43 different muscles that can be activated around the eyes, nose, mouth, jaw, chin and eyebrows to make thousands of different expressions.

How they conducted the study

First, the researchers used Cowen’s machine learning algorithm to record facial expressions featured in 6 million videos of events and interactions worldwide, such as watching fireworks, dancing merrily or consoling a crying child.

They used the algorithm to track instances of 16 facial expressions that they tend to associate with amusement, anger, amazement, concentration, confusion, contempt, contentment, desire, disappointment, doubt, exaltation, interest, pain, sadness, surprise, and triumph. .

Then, they correlated facial expressions with the contexts and scenarios in which they were made in different regions of the world and found remarkable similarities in the way people across geographical and cultural boundaries use facial expressions in different social contexts.

“We found that rich nuances in facial behavior – including subtle expressions that we associate with amazement, pain, triumph and 13 other feelings – are used in similar social situations around the world,” Cowen said.

For example, Cowen noted that in videos, people around the world tended to look on in amazement during fireworks, to show gratitude at weddings, to break their eyebrows in focus when doing martial arts, to show doubts at protests, pain at lifting weights and triumph at rock concerts and competitive sporting events.

The results showed that people from different cultures share about 70% of facial expressions used in response to different social and emotional situations.

“This supports Darwin’s theory that the expression of emotion on our faces is universal among people,” Keltner said. “The physical display of our emotions can define who we are as a species, improving our communication and cooperation skills and ensuring our survival.”

Reference: “Sixteen facial expressions appear in similar contexts worldwide” by Alan S. Cowen, Dacher Keltner, Florian Schroff, Brendan Jou, Hartwig Adam and Gautam Prasad, 16 December 2020, The nature.
DOI: 10.1038 / s41586-020-3037-7

In addition to Keltner and Cowen, the co-authors of the study are Florian Schroff, Brendan Jou, Hartwig Adam and Gautam Prasad, all at Google.