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How To…Interpret Facial Expressions

About the Smiler: Issa Rae is the writer and star of the web series Misadventures of an Awkward Black Girl. “Today, we’re so passive-aggressive,” says Rae. “Try not to hide any natural facial expressions that come to you.”

How To…Interpret Facial Expressions
Photo by Christina Gandolfo

A team of folks from the MIT Media Lab and tech company Affectiva is studying the nuances of the human face. The goal: develop education products for people with autism spectrum disorders. Here, Affectiva shares some truths about smiles.

1. Researchers classify expressions based on muscle groups. An insincere smile uses the lip-corner pullers, which are voluntary muscles. A sincere smile also involves the cheek raisers and eye crinklers, which are involuntary.

2. Most people–90%, in fact–smile when they’re frustrated, and these smiles of frustration have the same physical characteristics as happy smiles.

3. But happy smiles linger longer: After filling out a buggy online form, frustrated study participants smiled for just 7.5 seconds on average. When they watched a video of a baby laughing, smile time jumped to an average of 13.8 seconds.

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