SF State News {University Communications}

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Smiles and frowns are innate, not learned

January 7, 2009 -- Joyful smiles, dismayed frowns and other facial expressions of emotion are hardwired into our genes according to a new study by Professor of Psychology David Matsumoto. This new evidence shows that facial expressions of emotion are innate rather than learned through cultural observation.

One photograph showing a blind athlete frowning after losing a medal match at the Olympic Games (left) compared with a photograph of a sighted athlete showing the same facial expression after losing a match. The photographs were used in the study by San Francisco State Professor David Matsumoto.

Using thousands of photographs captured at the 2004 Olympic and Paralympic Games, Matsumoto compared the facial expressions of sighted and blind judo athletes, including individuals who were born blind. All competitors displayed the same expressions in response to winning and losing. "The statistical correlation between the facial expressions of sighted and blind individuals was almost perfect," said Matsumoto, whose findings also shed new light on how humans learn to manage their display of emotion. Matsumoto observed that both blind and sighted competitors who didn't win the desired medal displayed polite "social smiles" during the medal ceremonies -- evidence that our ability to modify our faces to fit the social setting is not learned visually.

The study was published in the January issue of The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.


-- Elaine Bible


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