Human facial expressions are controlled by a series of paired muscles which can manipulate elastic features such as shape of the lips and the orientation of the eye balls and eye sockets. These features have become so much a part of our everyday lives they tend to dominate our descriptions and opinions of individual people. We tend to relate happiness with smiles and sadness with tears, although experience has demonstrated that smile sometimes hide sadness and tears of joy are not uncommon. Some changes in human facial expressions are spontaneous and some are carefully controlled to send the appropriate message to any observer. Humans have also learned to hide their true feelings behind a facial mask’ of indifference to confuse observers who may take advantage of moments of weakness.
Smiles, grimaces and snarls are relatively easy to control and so are the least reliable indicators of the emotional state of the person behind them. Such expressions as “the smiling assassin”, and “crocodile tears”, are commonplace and serve to indicate the depths of deception common in facial expressions. Professional actors have to develop a high degree of skill in using facial expressions in order to convey the emotions of the characters they play. Successful politicians are also adept at using their facial expressions to convey what they consider to be the right signals to their electorate. Children are usually less guarded in their facial expressions although they tend to learn the subtleties of such emotional blackmail very quickly.
The eyes are said to mirror the soul and are therefore considered by many to be the most difficult facial signals to control. In face to face situations opponents tend to watch each others eyes very closely for signals of impending aggression or signs of weakness. Turning to face away from someone is one way of hiding any obvious message of weakness although it opens the opportunity for a surprise attack. Covering the face with a mask in order to hide facial expressions has been a common practice for thousands of years. The design of such masks has varied from the hideous and grotesque, presumably to frighten, to the beautiful and serene. During events like the G8 Forum it is common to see people using masks to represent different world leaders in a non too complimentary fashion.
Humans are inclined to interpret the expression on an animal’s face as indicating the same emotion as it would on humans. This can have disastrous consequences as the smile on the chimp’s face is far from being an indication of a happy emotional state. It may appear to be taking things to an extreme when dog owners deliberately copy canine expressions in some weird bonding situation with their pet pooch. The world of human facial expressions and the message they convey is a fascinating one and possibly worthy of a masters or doctoral thesis. Do we have any takers for such an enterprise amongst the Helium star performers?