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Emotional Cues and Facial Paralysis
April 6, 2010 10:06 AM   Subscribe

"She needed company, sympathy — someone, anyone, to see and feel her loss — and searched the face of her assigned social worker in vain."

Kathleen Bogart is a graduate student in psychology at Tufts University. She previously worked as social worker. She also suffers from a paralysis known as Moebius Syndrome, a neurological disorder present from birth that causes the paralysis of the facial muscles. Ms. Bogart, and others with Moebius Syndrome, are physically unable to make facial expressions. Her research focuses on the abilities of those with Moebius and similar syndromes or paralyses to recognize facial expressions.

Prior to Ms. Bogart's research, psychologists thought that facial mimicry, or emotional contagion, was necessary in learning how to recognize facial expressions and for learning social interaction. Ms. Bogart's study has found this theory to be false, bringing out the question for future research as succinctly put by "The New York Times" article, how does the brain interpret others’ expressions so quickly and accurately?
posted by zizzle (15 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
Crazy. Tho you'd never know it by the look on my face.

Thanks for posting this, really interesting.
posted by nevercalm at 10:10 AM on April 6, 2010


I'd be interested in knowing her thoughts on the facial feedback hypothesis, and studies done on those with "Parkinson's face."
posted by availablelight at 10:15 AM on April 6, 2010


a better link for Parkinson's facial masking

...also out of Tufts
posted by availablelight at 10:20 AM on April 6, 2010


I wonder what her clients thought of her apparently non-sympathetic face.
posted by DU at 11:19 AM on April 6, 2010


Listening to the accompanying audio slide show, I could detect a little bit of the muffled edges in her speech, marking sluggish muscles. But I also found it really easy to hear her laugh or speak with the voice I might use when I have a smile on my face. The aural markers were still there.
posted by Madamina at 11:44 AM on April 6, 2010


I wonder if this has affected her sense of humor in some way, making it more dry, since that tends accompany a deadpan expression.
posted by gottabefunky at 11:50 AM on April 6, 2010


:| this is my surprised face. It's also my happy face.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 12:12 PM on April 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


The series The Human Face with John Cleese touched on this. He introduced a girl with Moebius Syndrome and explained the condition. Her parents were concerned she'd not be able to socialize properly with the other children (she was just entering school). She received an experimental surgery where they removed a couple useless muscles from the arm (I think!) and attached them to the corners of her mouth. After receiving it she was actually able to smile. It wasn't a full, entirely natural smile, but it was something strongly resembling one. It was an all-or-nothing expression. Neutral expression or Smile. No inbetween.

The series is available on Netflix streaming.
posted by Wink Ricketts at 12:14 PM on April 6, 2010


I'd be interested in knowing her thoughts on the facial feedback hypothesis

Well, they're in the NYT article, maybe you should read it.
Studies so far point to what psychologists call facial mimicry. During a social exchange, people subconsciously mirror each other’s surprise, disgust or delight — and, in effect, interpret the emotion by sensing what’s embodied on their own face. Interfere with the ability to mimic, these studies suggest, and people are less adept at reading others’ expressions.

But what if a person cannot mimic any expressions, at all?

In a new study, the largest to date of Moebius syndrome, Ms. Bogart and David Matsumoto, a psychologist at San Francisco State, found that people with the disorder, whatever their social struggles, had no trouble at all recognizing others’ expressions. They do just as well as anyone else in identifying emotions in photographed faces, despite having no way to mimic.
posted by delmoi at 2:38 PM on April 6, 2010


I wonder if this has affected her sense of humor in some way, making it more dry, since that tends accompany a deadpan expression.
*sigh*
“I use humor a lot,” he said. “It’s a way of showing my humanity, for one thing, and over the years people have said I have a great laugh. And I’m old enough now — I can agree. I laugh from the innards of my belly, I have many different laughs for different occasions, each one looks distinct in my body. I learned pretty early on that, given the fairly harsh standards society imposes, that if I didn’t laugh at stuff I would probably just collapse.”
posted by delmoi at 2:40 PM on April 6, 2010


(Well, that was actually about a different person with a similar condition, but they did talk about her laughter a little. Anyway)
posted by delmoi at 2:42 PM on April 6, 2010



I'd be interested in knowing her thoughts on the facial feedback hypothesis

Well, they're in the NYT article, maybe you should read it.


hahahahaha...thanks for playing. Maybe you should have read the wiki article...Ekman's facial feedback hypothesis is primarily not about mirroring but about the feedback loop between one's OWN facial expressions (using forced expression states like the pencil between the teeth to engage smile muscles, etc), and one's own emotional state. He first came up with it while he was doing his expression cataloging, when he and a partner realized that on frown/anger/distress expression mapping days, they actually felt worse after making those expressions all day.
posted by availablelight at 3:23 PM on April 6, 2010


Creepy. Like talking to a mask.
posted by abbat at 5:51 PM on April 6, 2010


"She needed company, sympathy — someone, anyone, to see and feel her loss — and searched the face of her assigned social worker in vain."

I thought this was going to be about a robot in Japan.
posted by Evilspork at 5:57 AM on April 7, 2010


Thanks for the post, zizzle. I haven't enjoyed a psychology topic so much in a long time.
posted by Goofyy at 12:14 PM on April 7, 2010


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