Sunday, April 10, 2005

The Curious Incident of Facial Expressions

April 8th:
By serendipity, my wife just finished reading Macloclm Gladwell's Blink, and started reading
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (recommended by many, including Defective Yeti).

Both deal with the totally mindboggling subject of facial expressions and emotion.

Blink discusses the Facial Action Coding System
a detailed, technical guide that explains how to categorize facial behaviors. The protagonist of Curious Incident is an autistic boy, who has trouble reading these same facial expressions, and has his own system of determining what they mean.

Kind of a sweet and sour reading experience.

added April 10th:
I figured out why this subject was on my mind. My 2 year old has recently discovered that she can make faces: "Daddy, this is my MAD face!" And she does them really well! We're not trying to teach her to be an actress or anything, but I'm sure we're giving her positive feedback as she grinding her face into contorsions. Somewhere between FACS and autism, the rest of us have done this at one point or another, trying on different faces and different emotions. It's mindblowing how animal this is, yet humanity's complex social structures are based on being able to innately understand and manipulate these facial behaviors.

Of course by 5 year old tries to subvert this by making opposite faces. "Daddy," he says, cracking up as he's trying to make a Grrrr! face, "this is my HAPPY face!"


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