THAT signature family expression of joy or hangdog remorse may be more than a matter of monkey see, monkey do. It may be hard-wired into our brains.
By comparing the videotaped facial responses of 21 people born blind with those of their family members, researchers at the University of Haifa in Israel found similarities in expressions of concentration, sadness, anger, disgust, joy and surprise. “There’s plenty of evidence that facial expressions are inherited,” says Gili Peleg, a doctoral candidate at the university’s Institute of Evolution and lead investigator on the study. Universal expressions have been found in isolated populations, she points out, and apes and humans also have similar facial expressions. To elicit expressions, subjects were asked to perform a task or relate an experience that caused a particular emotion. Concentration, for example, was induced by asking the subject to solve puzzles of increasing difficulty. Disgust was elicited by telling the subject a story about eating maggots.
Following up on the study, which appeared online in the Oct. 16 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Peleg hopes to find the genes involved in creating facial expressions, including, she says, those that control facial muscles’ structure, facial bones’ structure, muscle innervation and even those that control facial perception.
Lower your eyebrows. It could happen.