April 1993 · American Psychologist
Vol. 48, No. 4, 384-392
1992 Award Addresses
Facial Expression and Emotion
Cross-cultural research on facial expression and the developments of methods to measure facial
expression are briefly summarized. What has been learned about emotion from this work on the
face is then elucidated. Four questions about facial expression and emotion are discussed. What
information does an expression typically convey? Can there be emotion without facial
expression? Can there be a facial expression of emotion without emotion? How do individuals
differ in their facial expressions of emotion?
In 1965 when 1 began to study facial expression,
few thought there was much to be learned.
Goldstein (1981) pointed out that a number of famous psychologists—F. and G. Allport,
Brunswik, Hull, Lindzey, Maslow, Osgood, Titchner—did only one facial study, which was not
what earned them their reputations. Harold Schlosberg was an exception, but he was more
interested in how to represent the information derived by those who observed the face than in
The face was considered a meager source of mostly inaccurate, culture-
layman knew made it all the more attractive. Psychology had exposed the falseness of a folk
belief, a counterintuitive finding.
The late Silvan Tomkins (1963) was virtually the only contrary voice. He convinced me to
extend my studies of nonverbal behavior from body movement to the face, helping me design my
initial cross-cultural studies. Tomkins also advised Carroll Izard in the design of similar studies
at the same time. He did not tell either of us about the other, which helped the science because it
provided independent replications but was an unwelcome surprise when we learned that we had
not been alone in our discoveries.
We each found high agreement across members of diverse Western and Eastern literate
cultures in selecting emotion terms that fit facial expressions. Izard (1971) added evidence that
cross-cultural agreement was preserved for most emotions when subjects were allowed to choose
extended the findings to a preliterate culture in New Guinea, whose members could not have
learned the meaning of expressions from exposure to media depictions of emotion. We also
found agreement about which expressions fit with different social situations, such as the death of
a child, a fight, and seeing friends.
Friesen and I (Ekman, 1972; Friesen, 1972) also extended the findings of how people
interpret expressions to the study of how and when people show expressions. We found evidence
of universality in spontaneous expressions and in expressions that were deliberately posed. We
—culture-specific prescriptions about who can show which emotions, to
whom, and when—to explain how cultural differences may conceal universals in expression, and