I.4.5 Sharing Facial Expressions

 “The face is the mirror of the mind, and eyes without speaking confess the secrets of the heart.” - St. Jerome

In their 2020 book “Survival of the Friendliest” authors Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods compare our Homo Sapiens ancestors with the Neanderthals. The Neanderthals had a highly sophisticated culture, burying their dead, carrying for their sick, and adorning themselves with paint and jewelry. They also were stronger than us, barrel chested and muscular. Based on comparative experiments with dogs, foxes, chimpanzees and bonobos , Hare and Woods support Richard Wrangham’s self-domestication hypothesis. The self-domestication hypothesis posits that Homo Sapiens from after 80,000 years ago showed marked signs of self-domestication compared to Neanderthals. Neanderthal skulls show signs of a strong influence of testosterone, the “male sex hormone” triggering aggression and competitive behavior, while Homo sapiens skulls and skeletons show influence of serotonin, a hormone regulating mood and emotions. The more testosterone is produced during puberty, the thicker the brow ridge in the face, and the longer the face. Hare, Woods and other researchers found that the brow ridge of Homo Sapiens skulls over the last 80,000 years was reduced by 40 percent, while faces became 10 percent shorter and 5 percent narrower, indicating lower levels of testosterone compared to Neanderthals. Serotonin on the other hand seems to change skull structure by making them more globular, that is more like a balloon or a light bulb. Every other skull of early hominins except Homo Sapiens had low flat foreheads, Neanderthals had skulls shaped like footballs. Only we Homo Sapiens have the balloonlike globular skulls indicative of lower testosterone and higher serotonin levels. Lower testosterone and higher serotonin also reinforce the influence of another hormone, oxytocin, on social bonding. Eye contact between parents and babies creates oxytocin, making both parents and babies more loving and being loved. This result ties in with the theory of “facial width to height ratio”, which posits that men with higher “facial width to height ratio”, that means with broader, rounder faces, are more aggressive, while men with thinner faces are more trustworthy . For instance, among 743 faces of Finnish soldiers in the winter war against Russia during the Second World War , soldiers with thinner faces had higher rank, while soldiers with rounder faces had more children. The perception of aggressiveness of wider faces led to better outcomes in a negotiation game among Chinese MBA students, while CEOs are more wide-faced than a comparable peer group . This means that as the quote of St. Jerome says, reading the face of a person will show many facets of personality characteristics and emotions of a person.

In our own research we have studied facial and voice emotions of people in various settings, such as concerts, theater plays, business meetings, and in the classroom. We conducted a series of research projects using facial emotion detection systems using Webcams.  For instance, we tracked emotions of 34 students participating in a semester-long virtual seminar. The students worked in eight teams, collaborating mostly over long distance. In a bi-weekly two-hour online meeting using Zoom videoconferencing, they presented their project progress. We tracked the emotion of their faces using face emotion detection, and compared it with the quality of their presentation, by collecting a score from each participant asking “how many points will you give this presentation?” at the end of each presentation. No surprisingly we found that happy faces correlated with highly scored presentations, while bored, neutral faces correlated with low scoring presentation. But we also found that the wider the spread in positive and negative emotions among the audience was, the higher was the score of the presenter. In other words, if the audience was riding an emotional rollercoaster, viewers scored the quality of the presentation much higher.

In another project we analyzed facial emotions of Jazz musicians in a rehearsal at the Berklee College of Music, who were rehearsing with a famous musician in preparation of a big concert. When tracking the emotions through the Happimeter and the facial expressions, we found the same as with the students in the zoom videoconferencing: the more their facial expressions reflected fear and anger – most likely anger about themselves because they did not fulfill their own high expectations – the better was their performance measured through the Happimeter worn by others. In other words, going through an emotional roller coaster was a recipe for playing better.

We also measured emotions of participants in meetings using the Happimeter. However there we found the opposite. While an emotional rollercoaster is good for a performance in theater or music, meeting participants do not really appreciate emotional rollercoasters, rather they prefer meetings in harmony.


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