A Human Face

Interpretations of Facial Expressions

she demands face readingThe expressive power of this woman's face results from the contrast between  her feminine qualities, including the roundness of her hairline, thick red lips and small chin, with the severity of her intense gaze, highlighted by her arched outer eyebrows, lower at their medial ends, and direct stare, seemingly fixed on the viewer. Her gaze is accentuated by the firmly set, straight lips that might be slightly thrust forward or pursed. From the facial muscular action perspective, little is happening, except for the possible lip pursing and a slight tightening of the inner eyelids, which enhances the staring quality. She has reddened her lips to emphasize their messages. A petulant or defiant quality is carried by the permanent (perhaps cosmetically enhanced) shape of the eyebrows, which might be lowered very slightly at their inner corners by action of the corrugator muscle. She would convey a much different impression with even the slightest of smiles. Models seem to cultivate such incongruities between accomodating and attractive facial features versus the alienating and unfavorable messages in an attempt to capture the interest of viewers, an approach not overlooked by their face reading fans. Overall, her facial expression is one of an elusive impatience or mild pique suggesting a potential for intense passion. Her other facial features include a high forehead, hollow cheeks and a long, elegant nose, and her face is relatively long. The coloration of her skin, hair, eyebrows, eyes, and lips also provide the viewer with additional messages about sex, ethnicity, age, etc.

his public is face readingThis actor uses both his physiognomic features and his transient expression to convey strong messages to his face reading audience. His square face juts forward, his white hair wildly tossed by his emotional storm. His scarred and  coarse face lend a dangerous background and his carefully cropped beard enhances his strong, broad chin. The boiling anger is indicated by his muscular movements: the eyebrows that are pulled together and down to form vertical wrinkles between the eyebrows in the forehead and the glaring stare of his eyes that is caused by the tightening of muscles around his eyelids and raising of his upper eyelid. The general impression is one of threatening violence from a powerful and experienced, mature male. We cannot tell whether this actor was actually experiencing the emotion of anger in his portrayal or not, as actors use different strategies to portray emotion in their craft, but this actor has all the signs pointing in a consistent direction. Coloration of the skin, texture of the hair, and shape of the head provide information about his sex, age, and ethnic background.

pleasant facial featuresThe expression of this young woman presents a consistent picture of relaxed contentment in both her physiognomy and her muscular expression. Her face is round and so is each component, her forehead, her cheeks, her chin. Such roundness of features seems to convey a pleasant, friendly demeanor. Her lips are full and pulled slightly upwards and outwards by the action of the zygomatic major muscle to create a slight smile. Her inner eyelids seem slightly tightened and raised and her upper lip may be raised slightly.  Scientists have found evidence that this combination of a smile with tightening around the eyes indicates the emotion of happiness is genuinely felt, as opposed to simulated poorly or a mere emblem of a smile. The combination of lip raising and smiling has deepened and shaped her nasolabial furrow. The coloration of her skin, eyes and lips provide information about her ethnic background and her cap could be a clue to her cultural background or identity.

puzzled facial expressionThis woman has an eye position and a head position that departs from a straight ahead orientation. Her direction of gaze is cast upwards and to her right. Scientists have found evidence that such eye positions indicate attention to inner thought processes and that the direction of gaze is related to the contents of the thought. Indeed, her gaze together with her head position, which is cocked to her left, suggests a thoughtful pose to most observers. The eyebrows might be raised slightly, following her upwards gaze. The lower lip on her right side is pulled slightly down, while the left side appears to be bitten slightly and her jaw thrust slightly forwards so her teeth can engage the lip. This lip biting position is consistent with a thoughtful expression, although this may be a cultural stereotype. Overall, her expression indicates a thoughtful or perplexed state of mind, a category of experience different from the emotions of many of the other images shown here. Earrings are a common addition to the human facial appearance, thought to enhance beauty or stature, and possibly signifying group identification. Her skin, hair, and eye coloration and eyelid structure provide cues about her age, ethnic background, etc.

angry facial expressionThe deliberate portrayal of emotions can produce good representations of emotional expressions, but they are often incongruous. In this expression, the woman produces many muscular actions characteristic of angry expressions. Her eyebrows are drawn down, although more on her right side, producing a horizontal wrinkle on the bridge of her nose,  and slightly together, but not as much as the angry actor above. The skin around her eyes and eyelids is tightened and drawn together, narrowing her eye opening and raising her cheeks. The narrowing effect of the tightening around her eyelids is counteracted by the raising of the upper eyelid to produce a characteristic glare of anger. The lips are tightened and rolled inwards and stretched laterally, and the mouth is pulled open by a jaw stretched downwards, with the upper lip slightly raised and the lower lip slightly lowered. The open mouth and the extent of other signs indicates high intensity anger. The intensity of this expression is an incongruity, as women are almost never seen to express this degree of anger, much less often than men. If a woman is really as angry as this expression suggests, better watch out!

ambiguous facial expressionAlthough this boy has many of the same muscular actions as the woman portraying anger above and the angry actor above, he does not quite look angry. The skin around his eyes is tightened and drawn together and his upper eyelid is tightened to hold his eyes open. His eyebrows are drawn down and slightly together. His upper lip is pulled up to expose his upper teeth, and his lower lip is slightly pulled down. These actions are all consistent with an angry expression, so why doesn't he look really angry? Part of the answer is that his nose is wrinkled, a sign of the emotion disgust, except that his teeth should be parted if he were so disgusted. His lips are relaxed, not in keeping with an angry expression, in which they should be tightened or, if closed, pressed together. One might interpret this facial expression as a combination of anger and disgust, but the boy's dirty face together and the bright sunlight suggest that his face expresses the effects of a hard effort at some outdoor game in the hot sun. An important aspect of face reading is to put the face in context. As in the other images here, signs of age, sex, ethnicity, etc. are also present in the face.

distressed facial expressionThis and the next image contain simulations of two emotions by the same person. When you look at these two photos, do you have any trouble discerning that they are the same person? Despite the drastic differences in the details between the appearance of the person in the two pictures, it is likely you have no trouble seeing that they are of the same person. The signs of identity that you use to make this judgement are carried by features other than those that convey the expressive qualities and are processed partly in a special area of your brain. His expression is one of pain or distress. The skin around the eyes is tightened, raising the cheeks, forming crowsfeet wrinkles at the outer eye corners, almost shutting the eyes, and lowering the eyebrows. The eyebrows are also slightly drawn together. The lips are stretched laterally by the risorius muscle and  the chin boss is pushed up by the mentalis muscle. The poser could have added an additional sign of sadness to this simulation by raising the inner part of his brow, which in combination with the pulling together would produce an omega shape wrinkle in the center of his forehead.

surprise facial expressionHere, his expression is one of surprise. Notice how so many features are opposite to the expression above. The eyebrows are raised by the frontalis muscle, not lowered as above. The eyes are open a bit wider than normal by the raising of the upper eyelid, not closed. The jaw has dropped slightly and the lips are separated, not together as above. Although you might easily recognize this expression as one of surprise, you will have to look quickly to see genuine surprise expressions in a natural setting because they come and go rapidly from the face. Although this face has a complete (or nearly complete) set of the muscular actions that correspond to surprise expressions, there are cues that his expression is faked (it is indeed an expression posed for the camera). The brows are raised too much, and the jaw has not dropped as much as would be expected from his lip separation. A priority in face reading is to determine which messages might be fabricated, and which might reveal some truth about the person.

Images copyright © Corel Corp - do not copy.