Scientists have discovered a facial expression that everyone in the world makes. No, it’s not a smile or the “What’s that smell?” or the resting bitch face. The universal face that all humans make and all humans understand is the “Not Face.” The what?
Blame Charles Darwin for inspiring this study by researchers at The Ohio State University and published in the journal Cognition. Darwin believed that the ability to facially show danger or aggression was key to human survival and the expressions were understood long before the development of languages.
In a previous study, cognitive scientist Aleix Martinez and his team used algorithms to identify 21 distinct emotional expressions. Those included elementary expressions like ‘happy’ and disgusted’ and combined expressions like ‘happy disgusted’ that one might make while watching a gross comedy. They then went on a search to find one universal expression that meant the same thing in all cultures.
Using Darwin’s idea, the researchers decided that the universal face would be a ‘not face’ that expressed moral disagreement. They selected 158 students who spoke in four distinct languages: English, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese and American Sign Language, which uses facial expressions for many words and emotions.
The subjects were filmed having conversations in their native languages that at some point led to moral disagreement. When their facial expressions were compared using facial recognition software and the algorithms, the researchers found that all made the same face which they called the “not face.” The expression was a combination of furrowed brows to show anger, pressed-together lips showing contempt and a raised chin expressing disgust.
What does this mean, Aleix Martinez?
To our knowledge, this is the first evidence that the facial expressions we use to communicate negative moral judgment have been compounded into a unique, universal part of language. Where did language come from? This is a question that the scientific community has grappled with for a very long time. This study strongly suggests a link between language and facial expressions of emotion.
So your facial expressions are key to your survival. Go spend some time in front of a mirror turning that resting bitch face into a happy smiley face.