The Aresan Clan is published four times a week (Tue, Wed, Fri, Sun). You can see what's been written so far collected here. All posts will be posted under the Aresan Clan label. For summaries of the events so far, visit here. See my previous serial Vampire Wares collected here.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Emotions and Expression of Emotions

There's believed to be a close link between emotions and expressions of emotions. I remember first reading about this idea in Paul Ekman's book Emotion's Revealed. Ekman, early in his research career had gone through a long process of documenting every facial expression the facial muscles are capable of making, by contracting individually and in every conceivable combination all the facial muscles of the face. The purpose was to make sure they had a complete and accurate list of all meaningful facial expressions. Most facial expressions that you can make are just silly, weird expressions that mean nothing. The few that are actually meaningful are only a small subset, like expressions of sadness, joy, anger and so on. What Ekman discovered in this process is that whenever he made the proper expression of an emotion it would lead to the feeling of that emotion. For example, the expression of sadness involves contracting a muscle in the center of the forehead called the pyramidal muscle (it's called that because it causes a furrowed pattern on the brow in the shape of an inverted triangle). When you contract the pyramidal muscle, you can feel a sort of a tinge of sadness inside, like some sad event is tugging your heart. And similarly when you make a genuine smile, sometimes called a Duchenne Smile, which involves both raising the edge of your lips as well as contracting the orbicularis oculi muscles at the edge of your eyes to form the crow's feet wrinkles (I think Ekman said that smile also involves contracting the muscle between your eyebrows at the top of your nose), it makes you feel good.

New research has confirmed that there is a close correlation between emotions and expressions of emotions. One avenue of research is noting that people whose forehead is numbed by Botox lose the ability to empathize with others. The idea is that the Botox deadens your ability to express emotions because so many of the muscles critical to expressing emotions can't be moved. You can't contract your pyramidal muscle, or your orbicularis oculi muscles, and thus your ability to feel sadness and happiness is dampened. By dampening your ability to feel these emotions, your ability to empathize is also dampened. Perhaps, it's because part of our empathy process involves unconsciously mirroring other people's facial expressions so that we feel along with them.

It makes we wonder how this all fits in with theories of emotion. For example, according to various two-factor theories of emotion, such as Schachter-Singer, emotions are caused by different state of arousal combined with interpretation of that arousal. For example, if you're aroused, your heart beating fast, you might just as easily interpret it as fear or lust. If expression of emotions play a part, this could help flesh out the interpretation part of the two-factor theory.

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