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Muscles and Facial Expression

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The muscles of facial expression are located in the subcutaneous tissue, originating from bone or fascia, and inserting onto the skin

By contracting, the muscles pull on the skin and exert their effects. They are the only group of muscles that insert into skin. These muscles have a common embryonic origin – the 2nd pharyngeal arch. They migrate from the arch, taking their nerve supply with them. As such, all the muscles of facial expression are innervated by the facial nerve. The facial muscles can broadly be split into three groups: orbital, nasal and oral.

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We are communicating with our bodies all the time whether we realize it or not. Most of the emotional meanings of our messages are given through facial expressions, body language, gestures and our appearance

People tend to believe nonverbal signs of communication more than the actual words because it is harder to mask the emotions behind them and they show through. Reading and interpreting these nonverbal cues is valuable skill. It is useful in all different types of relationships every day. Different cultures focus their attention on various parts of the face making this form on nonverbal communication different among cultures. In America we look at the face in its entirety as opposed to Easterners who concentrate more on just the eyes. This is shown through emoticons as well as in person. (“Facial expressions,”)When Westerners email or send a text message the emoticon s show a mouth smiling or frowning. Easterner’s emoticons have bigger eyes and the mouth is usually a straight across line. Westerner’s emoticons eyes are usually represented by dots. The differences in these show where different cultures focus their attention on and what they find most important. Often, people tend to mimic the facial expression of the person who is talking to them. It is said that this is an unconscious act so people don’t always know when they are doing it. Some researchers have said it is a behavior we learn, for that reason it is different among cultures. These expressions are said to be so powerful that they can influence an emotional experience without the perceiver actually going through the experience. These influential gestures have the ability to make people empathize with one another. This made me think of the saying smile, it’s contagious. I have noticed if I’m having a bad day and a random stranger smile at me I return the smile and sometime that puts me in a better mood. Even if my mood it just changes a little, it is still a strong tool. I believe facial expressions are a very powerful form of communication. I believe if we utilize them correctly they can be very persuasive and help us in our day to day lives.

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Facial expressions refer to movements of the mimetic musculature of the face. The vast majority of these muscles are innervated by the VIIth cranial nerve, emanating from the brainstem between the pons and medulla. The nerve includes a motor root that supplies somatic muscle fibers to the muscles of the face, scalp, and outer ear, enabling the muscle movements that comprise facial expressions. The sensory part of the nerve enables and augments some aspects of taste and sound (Standring, 2005). (The upper eyelid is innervated by a different nerve – the oculomotor nerve; this muscle is used in expressions of surprise, fear and anger.) The facial nerve receives impulses from multiple brain areas. Lower face muscles are represented more fully in the motor cortex than the upper face, allowing for more voluntary and learned control of the lower face; this provides the fine controls of that facial region required for speech articulation. The amount of bilateral v. contralateral fibers to the facial muscles differs depending on region, with the lower face being primarily contralateral and bilateral fibers increasing in the upper face (Matsumoto & Lee, 1993). (Note that there are large individual differences in this regard, and that involuntary expressions for the most part provide bilateral activation.) Voluntary and involuntary expressions are under the control of different neural tracts (Rinn, 1991), with voluntary expressions controlled by impulses from the motor strip through the pyramidal tract, and involuntary expressions controlled by impulses from subcortical areas through the extrapyramidal tract. The activation of facial movements that have become habitual, although acquired voluntarily, might resemble involuntary activation, but no research on this has been reported. Once innervated, the face is intricate and differentiated, making it one of the most complex signal systems available to humans. It includes over 40 structurally and functionally anatomically independent muscles, each of which can innervate independently of each other.

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In the final analysis, all these measures, these dependent variables, are in principle visible to others, and could serve as independent variables, possibly impacting on the total percept of a person and his emotional expression, its intensity and/or genuineness

The shedding of tears in sadness or joy, the reddening of the face and the pearls of sweat on ones forehead in anger or love, the blushing of the face and averting of gaze in embarrassment or shame, the dilating pupils indicating social interest and trust, happiness or stress are just examples of emotion signals that have received very little attention in the literature. Studying emotion perception beyond the face muscles including the perception of autonomic signals and the synchronization therewith is a promising avenue for future research.

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Rinn, W. E. (1991). Neuropsychology of facial expression. In R. Feldman & B. Rime (Eds.), Fundamentals of nonverbal behavior (pp. 3-70). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Matsumoto, D., Yoo, S. H., Nakagawa, S., Alexandre, J., Altarriba, J., Anguas-Wong, A. M., et al. (in press). Culture, emotion regulation, and adjustment. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Ekman, P., Sorenson, E. R., & Friesen, W. V. (1969). Pancultural elements in facial displays of emotion. Science, 164(3875), 86-88.

Levenson, R. W. (1999). The intrapersonal functions of emotion. Cognition and Emotion, 13(5), 481-504.

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