Paul Ekman, the eminent UCSF psychologist, has a new exhibit of his photography on display at the Exploratorium in San Francisco. The photographs are primarily of the South Fore people, an isolated group living in the New Guinea highlands. Ekman was studying their facial expressions, trying to figure out if the articulations of human facial muscles were universal, as Darwin had first theorized:
Ekman’s team found that the Fore’s facial expressions for happiness, sadness, fear, surprise, anger, and disgust were strikingly similar to those found in other cultures. For example, when asked to imitate the expressions associated with meeting an old friend or stumbling upon a decaying animal, they showed the same patterns of eye and mouth muscle movements seen in Westerners under similar circumstances. The fact that the Fore showed these facial “universals” despite little contact with representatives of other cultures (or modern popular media) strongly suggested that Darwin’s view of innate expressions was correct.
Ekman has gone on to create a detailed atlas of all of our facial expressions, many of which we have little conscious control over.
Image courtesy of the Exploratorium