Innovations in Social Science Research, Vol. 10, No. 4, pp. 333-344, 1997
Should We Call it Expression or Communication?
Two issues are addressed. First is the matter of just what type of information
can be derived from observing a facial expression of emotion. Seven different emotion
domains are described. Then problems inherent in the terms expression and
communication are described as they apply to facial behaviour. In this context the
argument that the face just signals about interactive not emotional phenomena is shown
to be a false and misleading dichotomy.
The two questions this article addresses presume that the reader accepts the evidence that
there are universals in facial expressions of emotion.
Granting that, the question still can
be asked as to what it is that we know when we observe a facial expression of emotion.
Is it an emotion term, such as the person is angry, afraid, disgusted, sad, happy, etc.? Or
is it some other kind of message about what is happening inside the person, or what the
person is likely to do? This is an issue which cuts across disciplines, for some of those in
sociology and anthropology, as well as some in psychology have argued that facial
expressions convey information about the state of a relationship, and it is misleading to
use a framework which emphasizes individual emotions. The second matter considered is
whether these are messages sent to us, a form of communication, or are they involuntary
expressions of an internal state. Again there is division about this issue, in a number of
Consider in your minds eye a person looking directly at you, with her head thrust
slightly forward, brows lowered and pulled together, eyes glaring, and whose lips are
tightly pressed. Consider the diverse information that someone who observes this
expression, totally out of context might obtain:
Someone insulted/offended/provoked her.
She is planning to attack that person.
She is remembering the last time someone insulted her.
She is feeling very tense.
She is boiling.
She is about to hit someone.
She wants the person who provoked her to stop what he/she is doing.
She is angry.
Compare this to the information that can be obtained if you were to see someone with
his head turned slightly away, his nose wrinkled, his upper lip raised, and lower lip