Humans And Primates Share Facial Expressions
Christopher Philip

"Based on our facial muscle analyses so far, chimpanzees seem to show the most similarity to humans," Waller said.  Photo Credit: Thomas Lersch, Wikimedia.

“Based on our facial muscle analyses so far, chimpanzees seem to show the most similarity to humans,” Waller said. Photo Credit: Thomas Lersch, Wikimedia.

Human and chimpanzee Anger Expression.

Human and chimpanzee Anger Expression.

This siamang expands his posture to make it known that he is present -- he's feeling dominant.

This siamang expands his posture to make it known that he is present — he’s feeling dominant.

American professional wrestler Bobby Fish displaying nonverbal dominance through and expansive postures.  Photo Credit Anton Jackson, Flickr.

American professional wrestler Bobby Fish displaying nonverbal dominance through and expansive postures. Photo Credit Anton Jackson, Flickr.

A new study published in Biology Letters shows that humans and primates hold similar facial expressions. This bodes well the idea that facial expressions have a universal element.

According to lead author Bridget Waller of the University of Portsmouth’s Center for Comparative and Evolutionary Psychology “Some of the basic human expressions have clear counterparts in other species, such as the human smile — equivalent to the bared-teeth display in other primates — and laughter—equivalent to the primate play face, used during play.”

“Based on our facial muscle analyses so far, chimpanzees seem to show the most similarity to humans,” said Waller.

Waller explains that in human children, the expression of determination incorporates components of anger. “Primates have a similar expression used during bluff displays, but this doesn’t seem to be produced when they are engaging with a difficult task.” This makes the expression relatively unique to humans.

It is her belief that humans could use the expression of determination to solicit the help of others.

Previous research has found spontaneous expressions of triumph and pride in athletes in the Olympics. Even blind and congenitally blind athletes display similar postures when they win. This suggests that dominance has roots in non-human primate displays. “We believe that the triumph expression signals victory and achievement, which in turn signals dominance and aids in establishing status in a hierarchy,” says David Matsumoto, who conducted the research. “This enables social coordination and enhances reproductive success.”

Facial expressions are often coupled with full body displays. For example, dominance in humans is displayed with a wide open body stance, arms and legs splayed. Animals display similar trends by taking up postures which command the use of space. Submission takes on an opposite body form – it shrinks.

When humans and animals display dominance, their faces open up and expand. The eyes open and the teeth flashing. During submission we are inclined to protect the face by closing the eyes and mouth.

Resources

“Children, but not chimpanzees, have facial correlates of determination.” B. M. Waller, A. Misch, J. Whitehouse and E. Herrmann. Biol. Lett. 20130974. dx.doi.org/10.1098/rsbl.2013.0974

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