Facial Expressions Of Emotion Across Cultures: Are They Innate or Learned ?

Facial Expressions Of Emotion,  Are They Innate Or Learned ?

Mimicking other people’s facial expressions is a very intuitive and innate way to be able to empathize, create bonds and communicate with others. In the article “Emotion expression in social interaction ” it is confirmed that facial mimicry provides feedback that is used to judge the meaning of a smile but supports the notion that mimicry is dependent on social context.

Do you  think you can fake an emotion and give a great  impression by showing a happy face even if you are not ? Well it depends, but if your smile is fake, the muscles around your eyes are not stimulated and it gives a weird feeling that your face is not reflecting what you are saying to people listening to you. French neurologist Guillaume Duchenne was first to demonstrate the differences and since then genuine smiles are often referred to as Duchenne smiles.

In a study done by San Francisco State University Psychology Professor David Matsumoto, the facial expressions of sighted and blind judo athletes at the 2004 Summer Olympics and Paralympic Games were captured in more than 4,000 photographs of athletes from 23 countries. The statistical correlation between the facial expressions of sighted and blind individuals was almost perfect,” Matsumoto said. This suggests that facial expressions of emotion are innate rather than a product of cultural learning.

Few studies have been conducted on cross-cultural differences in facial expressions related to emotions. A recent study published in February 2011 by School of Psychology, Queen’s University Belfast, surprisingly demonstrated that male and female participants from four different countries gave an overall rating patterns that support the universality of emotion judgement. However culture influences the intensity of the rating of natural, dynamic emotional stimuli. Another study conducted by the University  of Glasgow demonstrated great cultural differences in facial expression but it was done using pictures.

I think that both innate and learned facial expressions give clues to observers when they mimic instinctively the expression of the other person. Showing empathy and emotional intelligence including intuition and active listening are the most important skills needed to communicate in a multicultural environment.

Botox may reduce your capability to respond to other people’s emotions by paralyzing  facial muscles making you unable to respond spontaneously to other people’s emotions. Many studies demonstrated that Botox users didn’t feel emotions as deeply as non-users. This negative effect on natural expression of emotions should be consistent in all cultures.

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About Anne Egros, Executive, Career and Expat Life Coach

Zest and Zen is a blog about Expat Life Challenges, Global Leadership, Intercultural Communication, Health and Wellness, Nutrition, Change Psychology, Life Transitions
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7 Responses to Facial Expressions Of Emotion Across Cultures: Are They Innate or Learned ?

  1. Pingback: Do Facial Expressions Develop before Birth? | Anne Egros, Intercultural Executive Coach

  2. Pingback: FAKE IT UNTIL YOU BECOME IT: Amy Cuddy: Your body language shapes who you are | Video on TED.com « Anne Egros, Global Executive Coach At Zest and Zen International

  3. Victor & I are thinking in similar ways. I wonder how much of the connection is a chicken and egg situation.
    1. botox users are self absorbed and are less socially aware?
    2. botox users are shy, use botox to mask who they are?
    different interpretations would lead to different judgments about botox users. we both know how important body language (including facial expression) is to an overall ability to get your message across. This is interresting Anne. thanks. Peggy/Doc Peg (PS are you on my Doc Peg is IN page on FB? I hope so.) 🙂

  4. Interesting spin on things….:)
    I would not ever want Botox and I don’t like not being able to read people’s faces.
    However, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, thus saying no to Botox is irrelevant to me.
    I’d rather see someone’s real facial expression than having to guess what they think, feel and want.
    Thanks for the thought-provoking post Anne.

  5. Botox may help in some ways but it is obvious it creates more harm than good. Especially if it is creating problems with facial expressions? That is terrible. As you pointed out, the first thing people read are facial expressions. They read facial expressions more than they hear what you say. The way you will express yourself if you have these treatments will not be at all effective. I say no to Botox.

  6. Victor says:


    This was an interesting post. After reading I am thinking that there may be a link between Botox and a decrease of insensitivity emotionally as well as physically. I don’t know that it would make anyone stupid but it does raise a question on the affects on physical emotion and reaction. I believe that the way we demonstrate facial expressions allows others to understand how we feel and react to our reactions. Facial expression is a form of communication that we need in order to react. I love my cellphone and pc but I will always prefer the face to face interaction that allows me to read people better.
    I am all for injecting anything that can prevent diseases or things that hurt the body. I guess one can argue that old age brings on wrinkles so wrinkles one day can end our lives but I do not believe that Botox will allow me to live forever.

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