Facial expressions

Happy face

When you look at someone to try and work out what they’re feeling, do you focus on their mainly eyes, or on their whole face?

If you come from East Asia you might focus mainly on the eyes and express your emotions mainly through your eyes, whereas Westerners tend to focus on and use their whole face, at least according to an article on Science Daily.

The researchers found that facial expressions they believed to be universally recognisable were often misinterpreted by people from East Asia, who tend to focus most on the eyes when trying to decipher such expressions. They also noted the emoticons reflect this difference as well, in that Western ones use the mouth the convey emotions, e.g. :) (happy) and :( (sad), while East Asian ones use the eyes: ^.^ (happy) and ;_; (sad).

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8 Responses to Facial expressions

  1. Dreaminjosh says:

    Hm, that must explain why anime characters have such huge eyes… (¬_¬)

  2. TJ says:

    In here we use both actually; the regular “:)” and the “^_^” or “^-^” and so. I think their use here is not related to the eyes but simply by the looks of the characters themselves, like “:)” would be a regular smile, while “^-^” is a cuter smile (according to some purpose in the sentence typed).
    There also 2 emoticons that change in meaning accordingly, like “:o” means someone surprised or screaming, while “^o^” would mean someone yawning. I think here, the characters for the eyes are the main interpreters indeed.

  3. peter j. franke says:

    In quite a number of cultures it is impolite to look into the eyes or at the face of the other. So, I suppose, listening to intonations must be important then..

  4. bronz says:

    I am skeptical about the differences in emoticon use being evidence or reflection of the research results. You don’t have upward and downward curves, or many other mouth choices, that you can use for upright emoticons; similarly, you don’t have many eye choices for sideway emoticons.

    Sure, I might be able to believe East Asians look at the eyes more to interpret emotions, but I find it ludicrous to use the emoticons as supporting evidence. It’s not hard to believe that different cultures have some differences in how they show emotions through facial expressions, and the contexts in which you use them and how to interpret them, but I’ll be damned if no one understands what a smile means.

    And do East Asians really make their eyes look like ^_^ when they’re happy? Yup, I thought so.

  5. Dreaminjosh says:

    I don’t think anyone was saying East Asians LOOKED like the emoticon, but that this is typically the style in which those cultures represent smilies.

    You can’t deny that (^_^) just has a very japanese-anime-hello-kitty-kero-kero-keropi feeling about it. When anime characters sleep, a lot of the time they look like this (-_-) or a variation thereof… and I don’t think Hello Kitty or Japanese Anime look like Japanese people at all. When compared to their Western counterparts, how fast could YOU spot the difference?

  6. bronz says:

    That’s not my point. Just because upright emoticons were invented in Japan (supposedly) and East Asia has adopted them as the most commonly used emoticons does *not* count as supportive evidence or reflection of the finding that East Asians rely more on looking at the eyes to interpret human emotions. That would be a rather forced conclusion. It would be akin to saying, let’s say, if it was found that Westerners had an uncanny ability to immediately recognize emotions that are displayed sideways more easily than East Asians could — and voila! the most commonly used emoticons among Westerners happen to be sideways but East Asians mostly use vertical ones, therefore that’s perfect corroborating evidence. That’s what the article is essentially suggesting, and what I object to.

  7. bronz says:

    Just an interesting related article from the same site:
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/08/080819213027.htm

    “In a series of eye-movement studies, we showed that social experience has an impact on how people look at faces. Specifically we noticed a striking difference in eye movements in Westerners and East Asian observers. We found that Westerners tend to look at specific features on an individual’s face such as the eyes and mouth whereas East Asian observers tend to focus on the nose or the centre of the face which allows a more general view of all the features. One possible cause of this could be that direct or excessive eye contact may be considered rude in East Asian cultures.”

  8. Dirk Bakker says:

    @ bronz:
    You don’t have upward and downward curves, or many other mouth choices, that you can use for upright emoticons; similarly, you don’t have many eye choices for sideway emoticons.

    Which might be the exact reason why East Asians choose the upright emoticons instead of the sideways ones: just because there are so many more eye options.