“You can tell a lot about people (and eggs) by what’s on their faces. See the source of emotions with brain pictures.Dimitri Vervitsiotis/Digital Vision/Getty Images
After taking just one look at someone, why do we sometimes immediately know we don’t like him or her? We usually chalk this up to instinct, intuition or a "gut feeling," but researchers have found that there’s something more going on that just barely meets the eye — microexpressions.
The human face is a medium, or a sign vehicle, that sends us a message. When we "read" a face, there’s quite a lot of data to sift through. One part of the medium is its basic structure and muscle tone. Is it long and angular or round and chubby? Often, we’ll see a stranger’s face and flip through a mental Rolodex of sorts, matching the shape of the new face with ones we already know. We also perceive changes that have taken place, such as scarring, weathering of the skin or wrinkles. Taking into account artificial adornments, such as eyeglasses, makeup, tattoos or piercings, we make personal judgments based on what the person has added by choice.
Providing more immediate information are the changes in a person’s face, such as smiles, frowns or scowls. These changes provide us with the most obvious information about someone’s mood or immediate intentions. Expressions represent the person’s intended message, the one he or she is trying to convey. A person trying to gain your trust will smile. Someone trying to scare you will scowl.
When we communicate, we try to collect as much verbal and nonverbal information as possible. We also try to control the outgoing expressive information we display to others in order to:
- Maximize our understanding of the people we interact with
- Gain perspective on the situation
- Protect ourselves against harm, deception, embarrassment or loss of social standing
- Guide, assure or manipulate the perceptions of another
Let’s learn more about the science of expressions — and which seven expressions all humans share.