People can broadcast more than three times as many different feelings on their faces as scientists once suspected. For years, scientists have thought that people could convey only happiness, surprise, sadness, anger, fear and disgust.
“I thought it was very odd to have only one positive emotion,” says cognitive scientist Aleix Martinez of Ohio State University in Columbus.
So he and colleagues came up with 16 combined ones, such as “happily disgusted” and “happily surprised.” Then the researchers asked volunteers to imagine situations that would provoke these emotions, such as listening to a gross joke, or getting unexpected good news.
When the team compared pictures of the volunteers making different faces and analyzed every eyebrow wrinkle, mouth stretch and tightened chin, “what we found was beyond belief,” Martinez says. For each compound emotion, almost everyone used the same facial muscles, the team reports March 31 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Martinez’s team’s findings could one day help computer engineers improve facial recognition software and help scientists better understand emotion-perception disorders such as schizophrenia.