Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

What are emotion expressions for?

Date:
January 3, 2012
Source:
Association for Psychological Science
Summary:
That cartoon scary face -- wide eyes, ready to run -- may have helped our primate ancestors survive in a dangerous wild, according to a new article. The authors present a way that fear and other facial expressions might have evolved and then come to signal a person's feelings to the people around him.

That cartoon scary face -- wide eyes, ready to run -- may have helped our primate ancestors survive in a dangerous wild, according to the authors of an article published in Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. The authors present a way that fear and other facial expressions might have evolved and then come to signal a person's feelings to the people around him.

Related Articles


The basic idea, according to Azim F. Shariff of the University of Oregon, is that the specific facial expressions associated with each particular emotion evolved for some reason. Shariff cowrote the paper with Jessica L. Tracy of the University of British Columbia. So fear helps respond to threat, and the squinched-up nose and mouth of disgust make it harder for you to inhale anything poisonous drifting on the breeze. The outthrust chest of pride increases both testosterone production and lung capacity so you're ready to take on anyone. Then, as social living became more important to the evolutionary success of certain species -- most notably humans -- the expressions evolved to serve a social role as well; so a happy face, for example, communicates a lack of threat and an ashamed face communicates your desire to appease.

The research is based in part on work from the last several decades showing that some emotional expressions are universal -- even in remote areas with no exposure to Western media, people know what a scared face and a sad face look like, Shariff says. This type of evidence makes it unlikely that expressions were social constructs, invented in Western Europe, which then spread to the rest of the world.

And it's not just across cultures, but across species. "We seem to share a number of similar expressions, including pride, with chimpanzees and other apes," Shariff says. This suggests that the expressions appeared first in a common ancestor.

The theory that emotional facial expressions evolved as a physiological part of the response to a particular situation has been somewhat controversial in psychology; another article in the same issue of Current Directions in Psychological Science argues that the evidence on how emotions evolved is not conclusive.

Shariff and Tracy agree that more research is needed to support some of their claims, but that, "A lot of what we're proposing here would not be all that controversial to other biologists," Shariff says. "The specific concepts of 'exaptation' and 'ritualization' that we discuss are quite common when discussing the evolution of non-human animals." For example, some male birds bring a tiny morsel of food to a female bird as part of an elaborate courtship display. In that case, something that might once have been biologically relevant -- sharing food with another bird -- has evolved over time into a signal of his excellence as a potential mate. In the same way, Shariff says, facial expressions that started as part of the body's response to a situation may have evolved into a social signal.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Association for Psychological Science. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. A. F. Shariff, J. L. Tracy. What Are Emotion Expressions For? Current Directions in Psychological Science, 2011; 20 (6): 395 DOI: 10.1177/0963721411424739

Cite This Page:

Association for Psychological Science. "What are emotion expressions for?." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 January 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/12/111223114119.htm>.
Association for Psychological Science. (2012, January 3). What are emotion expressions for?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 18, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/12/111223114119.htm
Association for Psychological Science. "What are emotion expressions for?." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/12/111223114119.htm (accessed December 18, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Mind & Brain News

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Prenatal Exposure To Pollution Might Increase Autism Risk

Prenatal Exposure To Pollution Might Increase Autism Risk

Newsy (Dec. 18, 2014) Harvard researchers found children whose mothers were exposed to high pollution levels in the third trimester were twice as likely to develop autism. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Yoga Could Be As Beneficial For The Heart As Walking, Biking

Yoga Could Be As Beneficial For The Heart As Walking, Biking

Newsy (Dec. 17, 2014) Yoga can help your weight, blood pressure, cholesterol and heart just as much as biking and walking does, a new study suggests. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
1st Responders Trained for Autism Sensitivity

1st Responders Trained for Autism Sensitivity

AP (Dec. 16, 2014) More departments are ordering their first responders to sit in on training sessions that focus on how to more effectively interact with those with autism spectrum disorder (Dec. 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Guys Are Idiots, According To Sarcastic Study

Guys Are Idiots, According To Sarcastic Study

Newsy (Dec. 12, 2014) A study out of Britain suggest men are more idiotic than women based on the rate of accidental deaths and other factors. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins