Magazine article USA TODAY

"Not Face" Is Universal Part of Language

Magazine article USA TODAY

"Not Face" Is Universal Part of Language

Article excerpt

Researchers have identified a single, universal facial expression that is interpreted across many cultures as the embodiment of negative emotion. The look proved identical for native speakers of English, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, and American Sign Language (ASL). It consists of a furrowed brow, pressed lips, and raised chin. Because we make it when we convey negative sentiments, such as "I do not agree," researchers are calling it the "not face."

The study also reveals that our facial muscles contract to form the "not face" at the same frequency at which we speak or sign words in a sentence. That is, we all instinctively make the "not face" as if it is part of our spoken or signed language. What is more, the researchers discovered that ASL speakers sometimes make the "not face" instead of signing the word "not"--a use of facial expression in ASL that previously was undocumented.

"To our knowledge, this is the first evidence that the facial expressions we use to communicate negative moral judgment have been compounded into a unique, universal part of language," notes Aleix Martinez, cognitive scientist and professor of electrical and computer engineering at Ohio State University, Columbus. "Where did language come from? This is a question that the scientific community has grappled with for a very long time. This study strongly suggests a link between language and facial expressions of emotion."

Previously, Martinez and his team had used computer algorithms to identify 21 distinct emotional expressions--including complex ones that are combinations of more basic emotions. …

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