Studying expressionism

Where do our facial expressions come from?

Charles Darwin tackled the subject in his book The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, and now a study published in Nature Neuroscience has revisited the question.

(Check out for the full audio version of the article.)

It seems that facial expressions were developed to create a survival advantage. For instance, an expression of fear increases sensory information by opening up the eyes, flaring the nostrils and speeding up eye movements, allowing for better peripheral vision and faster breathing. An expression of disgust elicits an opposite response, scrunching up the face to shut out unpleasant sensory information. It all makes a lot of sense – so much that I’m surprised it hadn’t been noticed before.

Of course, it had never been studied before – at least, not since Darwin threw together his thoughts 125 years ago. It seems like such a simple subject, a natural point of curiosity. Why smile? Why frown? Why were these expressions ever developed, outside of simple communication?

It’s something that seems very interesting to me. Yet, despite purchasing Darwin’s book over a decade ago, I’ve never opened it.

I will admit, at times I feel a twinge of the excitment I used to experience while studying science years ago. It’s a facinating field, one filled with constant dicovery, one that slowly uncovers every secret of our life.

So though I’ve never opened Darwin’s book, I can’t help but thinking that, even if it’s just for a chapter or two, it’s about time I did.

This was lovingly handwritten on June 19th, 2008