We might like to think that our faces can convey an intricate complexity of emotions, but researchers at the University of Glasgow say we can only show four.
This goes against the established idea that our faces can express six: Happiness, sadness, fear, anger, surprise and disgust.
The face has 42 muscles, Smithsonian.com reports, and there are actually some people trained to use every single one of them – so-called “super facers.” That’s not even a big part of the study, but we thought that was kind of cool.
Researchers filmed these face muscle wizards and used the footage to create a computer model that could flex individual face muscles. Study participants watched the model make different faces, and judged what expressions they resembled.
It appears that there are facial signals common to certain emotions that we think of as distinct: The wrinkled nose is associated with both fear and disgust, and widened eyes signal both fear and surprise.