New Research Questions the Correlation Between Facial Expressions and Emotions

When we interact with others it is typically a back and forth based and reading cues and responding back. Smiles mean happiness—we smile in return. We think a frown must mean the other person is sad, so we attempt to make them feel better.

We believe in facial expressions so much some businesses are developing tools to rate their customers’ satisfaction through these expressions.

However new research suggest that not only are facial expressions not a reliable indicator of inner emotion but that they are completely unreliable, and we should never trust a face to tell us what someone is feeling.

Their research question was ‘can we really detect emotion from facial articulation?’

The researchers’ conclusion? No. We cannot.

The researchers focused on creating computer programs that analyze facial expressions. This allowed them to analyze the kinetics of muscle movement in the human face and compared those movements with a person’s emotions. The researchers found that their attempts to detect or define emotions based on a subject’s facial articulations were almost always wrong.

Researchers drew further deductions. First, that context and cultural background make a huge difference when it comes to facial expressions. They deduced that not everyone who smiles is happy and likewise not everyone who is happy smiles. They even took the extreme opinion that most people who do not smile are experiencing an average level of happiness.

Researchers noted, no one walks around all day with a smile on their face even if they are having a great day and are experiencing happiness for the bulk of it.