Tuesday, December 30, 2008

We're just an expression

Gene Expression reports a study finding that facial expressions of emotions are innate, not learned. (pdf)

The study of the spontaneous expressions of blind individuals offers a unique opportunity to understand basic processes concerning the emergence and source of facial expressions of emotion. In this study, the authors compared the expressions of congenitally and noncongenitally blind athletes in the 2004 Paralympic Games with each other and with those produced by sighted athletes in the 2004 Olympic Games. The authors also examined how expressions change from 1 context to another. There were no differences between congenitally blind, noncongenitally blind, and sighted athletes, either on the level of individual facial actions or in facial emotion configurations. Blind athletes did produce more overall facial activity, but these were isolated to head and eye movements. The blind athletes' expressions differentiated whether they had won or lost a medal match at 3 different points in time, and there were no cultural differences in expression. These findings provide compelling evidence that the production of spontaneous facial expressions of emotion is not dependent on observational learning but simultaneously demonstrates a learned component to the social management of expressions, even among blind individuals.

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