We, as humans, over our lives come to know what certain facial expressions mean. It’s how we know what people are feeling often times even if they don’t explicitly say it, and how even when people say “I’m fine”, we know that they aren’t. Some facial expressions are more obvious than others, such as a smile indicating happiness and a frown typically meaning a person is upset. Even if we don’t actively think about it, our own facial expressions and the ones that we encounter change the way we interact with our fellow humans.

I decided to venture onto Science magazine.org, since Andrew discussed it is the world’s leading publication for scientists. I always wonder what is legitimate and not so trustworthy when I am on the internet, and have grown more skeptical over the course of this class. I came across an article that discusses these facial expressions. Dr. Paul Ekman, a world renowned psychologist, explored whether or not facial expressions were universal in the late 1960s. He experimented by showing pictures of Westerners with different facial expressions to remote cultures, such as Papua New Guinea. He concluded that facial expressions were universal when the people living in these cultures were able to identify all of the emotions being conveyed correctly. His conclusions were deemed truth and was not disproved for 50 years. It was noted in the article that his conclusions arose in the post war era when people wanted to feel as though all human beings truly were one. This is an important side note of the importance of examining the time period of when important scientific discoveries were made, and the climate of the society where they were made. This clearly influenced Tofrim’s discoveries which we talked about in class.

In 2011, psychologist Carlos Crivelli took his suspicions of Ekman’s work to the test, and began his own research with fellow psychologist Jose-Miguel Fernandez-Dols. Crivelli traveled to the Trobriand Islands off Papua Guinea, a step further into isolation than where Ekman traveled. The study itself had a rather small sample group. They questioned 72 people, only between the ages of 9 and 15. Right off the bat, it is clear that there are flaws in this experiment. He split the Trobrianders into two separate groups. The first group he asked them to name that emotion, from a given list. (The options were happiness, sadness, anger, fear, disgust, and hunger) The second group he proposed questions that put the emotions displayed more into context.
The biggest find would be that emotions themselves do not differ from culture to culture but rather how groups and individuals of different cultures perceive them.

There are not many studies that have been done to try and refute Ekman’s work, at least none that I can find. Does this say that Ekman’s work was that astonishing or that no one has been able to do any actual astonishing work since then?


All of this really makes me wonder. I was attracted to this article because of the photo it headlines.
Maybe it’s because I’m an actor that I find people so intriguing. We should find our own kind intriguing. We should be intrigued by the world in general. So many little things are so spectacular when you really look into them.


Dr. Paul Ekman


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