Ever Make the "Not Face"?

Did you know there's a face everyone of every nationality recognizes?

It's the furrowed brow, pressed lips and raised chin, and because we make it when we convey negative sentiments, such as “I do not agree,” researchers are calling it the “not face.”  Or call it the frown, though it's not completely that scowling look.  It's more a pout, like when your kid says, "You're not the boss of me."

You've seen it.   The look proved identical for native speakers of English, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese and American Sign Language (ASL).

It's a universal facial expression that is interpreted across many cultures as the embodiment of negative emotion.

Researchers found that we all instinctively make the “not face” as if it were part of our spoken or signed language, according to newswise.com. What’s more, the researchers discovered that ASL speakers sometimes make the “not face” instead of signing the word “not”—a use of facial expression in ASL that was previously undocumented.

"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,” says Aleix Martinez, cognitive scientist and professor of electrical and computer engineering at The Ohio State University, at newswise.com.

For this study, the researchers hypothesized that if a universal “not face” existed, it was likely to be combination of three basic facial expressions that are universally accepted to indicate moral disagreement: anger, disgust and contempt.

Why focus on negative expressions? Charles Darwin believed that the ability to communicate danger or aggression was key to human survival long before we developed the ability to talk, Martinez explained. So the researchers suspected that if any truly universal facial expressions of emotion exist, then the expression for disapproval or disagreement would be the easiest to identify.

In the study, participants (who were students) either memorized and recited negative sentences that the researchers had written for them ahead of time, or the students were prompted with questions that were likely to illicit disagreement, such as “A study shows that tuition should increase 30 percent. What do you think?”

In all four groups—speakers of English, Spanish, Mandarin and ASL—the participants’ answers translated into statements like “That’s not a good idea,” and “They should not do that.”

The researchers manually tagged images of the students speaking, frame by frame, to show which facial muscles were moving and in which directions. Then computer algorithms searched the thousands of resulting frames to find commonalities among them.

A “not face” emerged: the furrowed brows of “anger” combined with the raised chin of “disgust” and the pressed-together lips of “contempt.” Regardless of language—and regardless of whether they were speaking or signing—the participants’ faces displayed these same three muscle movements when they communicated negative sentences.

“This facial expression not only exists, but in some instances, it is the only marker of negation in a signed sentence,” Martinez says. “Sometimes the only way you can tell that the meaning of the sentence is negative is that the person made the ‘not face’ when they signed it.”

 “Where did language come from? This is a question that the scientific community has grappled with for a very long time,” he continues. “This study strongly suggests a link between language and facial expressions of emotion.”


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