“I pretty much try to stay in a constant state of confusion just because of the expression it leaves on my face.” – Johnny Depp


(Photo: http://tinyurl.com/bldpru8)

We are half way through the body language series (a link to part one and two) and this week, it’s on facial expressions.  More than body language and head movements, facial expressions are one of the key areas when it comes to the study of body language. Our facial expressions give us a glimpse into the mind of a person and it is the quintessential universal language. Anger, pain, happiness; these are all universal emotions that are communicated in your face and are understood whether you are in China, France, America, anywhere. Facial Expression can often give us an insight into what a person is thinking or feeling. However, it is also important to remember that these expressions can be faked and as such, facial expressions need to be read as part of a cluster, such as body language or body cues and facial expressions.

There are two types of facial expressions; the standard facial expressions and micro expressions.These micro-expressions are exhibeted subconsciously but are important if you want to decide if a person is lying or masking their true emotions. for example false smiles .

Wikipedia describes Micro-expressions as

“A Micro-expression is a brief, involuntary facial expression shown on the face of humans according to emotions experienced. They usually occur in high-stakes situations, where people have something to lose or gain. Micro-expressions occur when a person is consciously trying to conceal all signs of how he or she is feeling, or when a person does not consciously know how he or she is feeling. Unlike regular facial expressions, it is difficult to hide micro-expression reactions. Micro-expressions express the seven universal emotions: disgust, anger, fear, sadness,happiness, surprise, and contempt. Nevertheless, in the 1990s, Paul Ekman expanded his list of basic emotions, including a range of positive and negative emotions not all of which are encoded in facial muscles. These emotions are amusement, contempt, embarrassment, excitement, guilt, pride, relief, satisfaction, pleasure, and shame. They are very brief in duration, lasting only 1/25 to 1/15 of a second.

A superb television show for those interested in body language is “Lie to Me” starring Tim Roth.

An example of these micro-expression’s  are included in the picture below:


(Photo: http://tinyurl.com/bqozref)

The key area of study when it comes to Facial expression is the mouth and its surrounding area. The mouth is associated with very many body language signals, which is not surprising given its functions – obviously speech, but also those connected with infant feeding, which connects psychologically through later life with feelings of security, love and sex.

The mouth can be touched or obscured by a person’s own hands or fingers, and is a tremendously flexible and expressive part of the body too, performing a central role in facial expressions.

The mouth also has more visible moving parts than other sensory organs, so there’s a lot more potential for variety of signalling.

Unlike the nose and ears, which are generally only brought into body language action by the hands or fingers, the mouth acts quite independently, another reason for it deserving separate detailed consideration.

Smiling is a big part of facial body language. As a general rule real smiles are symmetrical and produce creases around the eyes and mouth, whereas fake smiles, for whatever reason, tend to be mouth-only gestures.

signal part of body possible 
detailed explanation
Pasted smile mouth faked smile A pasted smile is one which appears quickly, is fixed for longer than a natural smile, and seems not to extend to the eyes. This typically indicates suppressed displeasure or forced agreement of some sort.
Tight-lipped smile mouth secrecy or withheld feelings Stretched across face in a straight line, teeth concealed. The person smiling has a secret they are not going to share, possibly due to dislike or distrust. Can also be a rejection signal.
Twisted smile mouth mixed feelings or sarcasm Shows opposite emotions on each side of the face.
Dropped-jaw smile mouth faked smile More of a practiced fake smile than an instinctive one. The jaw is dropped lower than in a natural smile, the act of which creates a smile.
Smile – head tilted, looking up mouth playfulness, teasing, coy Head tilted sideways and downwards so as to part hide the face, from which the smile is directed via the eyes at the intended target.
Bottom lip jutting out mouth upset Like rubbing eyes, this can be an adult version of crying, so jutting or pushing the bottom lip forward is a part of the crying face and impulse. Bear in mind that people cry for reasons of genuine upset, or to avert attack and seek sympathy or kind treatment.
Laughter mouth relaxation Laughter deserves a section in its own right because its such an interesting area. In terms of body language genuine laughter is a sign of relaxation and feeling at ease. Natural laughter can extend to all the upper body or whole body. The physiology of laughter is significant. Endorphins are released. Pain and stress reduces. Also vulnerabilities show and can become more visible because people’s guard drops when laughing.
Forced laughter mouth nervousness, cooperation Unnatural laughter is often a signal of nervousness or stress, as an effort to dispel tension or change the atmosphere. Artificial laughter is a signal of cooperation and a wish to maintain empathy.
Biting lip mouth tension One of many signals suggesting tension or stress, which can be due to high concentration, but more likely to be anxiousness.
Teeth grinding mouth tension, suppression Inwardly-directed ‘displacement’  sign, due to suppression of natural reaction due to fear or other suppressant.
Chewing gum mouth tension, suppression As above – an inwardly-directed ‘displacement’ sign, due to suppression of natural reaction. Otherwise however can simply be to freshen breath, or as a smoking replacement.
Smoking mouth self-comforting Smoking obviously becomes habitual and addictive, but aside from this people put things into their mouths because it’s comforting like thumb-sucking is to a child, in turn rooted in baby experiences of feeding and especially breastfeeding.
Thumb-sucking mouth self-comforting A self-comforting impulse in babies and children, substituting breast-feeding, which can persist as a habit into adulthood.
Chewing pen or pencil mouth self-comforting Like smoking and infant thumb sucking. The pen is the teat. Remember that next time you chew the end of your pen…
Pursing lips mouth thoughtfulness, or upset As if holding the words in the mouth until they are ready to be released. Can also indicate anxiousness or impatience at not being able to speak. Or quite differently can indicate upset, as if suppressing crying.
Tongue poke mouth / tongue disapproval, rejection The tongue extends briefly and slightly at the centre of the mouth as if tasting something nasty. The gesture may be extremely subtle. An extreme version may be accompanied by a wrinkling of the nose, and a squint of the eyes.
Hand clamped over mouth mouth / hands suppression, holding back, shock Often an unconscious gesture of self-regulation – stopping speech for reasons of shock, embarrassment, or for more tactical reasons. The gesture is reminiscent of the ‘speak no evil’ wise monkey. The action can be observed very clearly in young children when they witness something ‘unspeakably’ naughty or shocking. Extreme versions of the same effect would involve both hands.
Nail biting mouth / hands frustration, suppression Nail-biting is an inwardly-redirected aggression borne of fear, or some other suppression of behaviour. Later nail-biting becomes reinforced as a comforting habit, again typically prompted by frustration or fear. Stress in this context is an outcome. Stress doesn’t cause nail-biting; nail-biting is the outward demonstration of stress. The cause of the stress can be various things (stressors).

Other area’s of study should include eyebrow movements, nose twitches,etc.Things such as swallowing hard or sighing also express a variety of emotions such as nervousness, anger, surprise, fear, etc.

Finally, the eyes are also a massive part of facial expressions but this will be covered in my next post!!


3 Responses to ““I pretty much try to stay in a constant state of confusion just because of the expression it leaves on my face.” – Johnny Depp”
  1. This is a very in-depth blog about body language.. I appreciate you posting this! I really like the picture choice as well!

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