Disgust – Keep a look out for the wrinkled nose and lips pushed upwards in this expression. Imagine that you put something foul smelling under your nose and see what kind of disgusted expression you make. Here are the clues to disgust:

Fear – The expression for fear I think resembles that of surprise in many ways although it is a very different expression in all.

The eyebrows are raised and the eyes are open wide. But notice how much more tensed this expression is than that of surprise. And although the eyebrows are raised, they are flatter than those suprise eyebrows.

I usually look at the eyebrows because we “talk” with them so often. Here is a eyebrow guide for 3 of the expressions that we’ve covered so far.

Paul Ekman uses the picture of the shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald in his book. Look closer at the man in the bright suit who is in charge of Oswald when he is shot.The expression is a mix of fear and anger. Fear in the lower part of the face and angry eyes. Oswald is clearly in pain.

Fear in the expression:


Joy –

There are smiles and then there are smiles! And usually we can tell the difference between them.

Look at the two smiles of Julia Roberts below:

Or of Mr Paul Ekman

one of the smiles is a fake.

Look at the eyes because that is where you can really tell if the smile is genuine or not. If the smile is genuine the muscles around the eyes are activated and we get the kind of scarecrow feet as you can see in the second picture of Hillary

Anger – When we become angry our eyes narrow and we get a hard stare like the man in the photo below.

The mouth can either be open or closed. Usually, when we engage in a physical activity (like Britney bashing at paparazzi with her broken umbrella) the mouth is closed. If we are  speaking (like Judd in the first picture) we have a squarish form of the mouth.

Or in short:

To be certain that someone is angry, the expression must be shown in all parts of the face. Otherwise it is an ambiguous expression. In the other universal emotions, it suffices that two parts of the face are engaged.For instance, in the picture below of surprise only the eyebrows and eyes are engaged but it still is clear that it is surprise.


Sadness – Humans have about 40 facial muscles. What is interesting is that we do not have active control over all of these muscles. Instead, they are activated by the feeling and we do not do it consciously. For instance, the sad expression (look at those eyebrows!) is very hard to make without the actual feeling.

When scientists have been studying facial muscles they have used needles with electricity to stimulate the right muscles to form expressions. That’s how hard it is to fake some of them.

The gaze is usually directed downwards in sadness.

And the eye lids can droop a little which gives us a sleepy look

But the look is the same (and again, look at those eyebrows!) regardless who we are:


Surprise – Surprise, is the briefest of all universal emotions. Why? Well, we usually go from surprise to something else once we figured out the source of the surprise. So it’ll be a mix of surprise – happy, surprise –anger and so on.

Oprah going from surprise to happiness and maybe a bit of fear

What happens is that we literally drop our jaw. This stretches out the skin of the cheeks and flattening it. The eyebrows go up which can produce lines across the forehead. The eyebrows are high and rounded.

If you want to know how big the surprise is, check the lower part of the face.

Note that only a widened eye can mean that we show an interest (wow!) and can just like the eyebrows be used as a punctuation in what is being discussed.




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