Facial Expressions

  • by Gitabushi

I’m beginning to think one of the problems in human society is we don’t know how to read facial expressions.

One fun fact is that facial expressions are cultural.  I can sometimes tell whether a Chinese person was raised in the US or in China simply by what their resting face is.  One aspect to guys with “yellow fever”is, I’m convinced, that they mis-read Chinese (or Asian) facial expressions: when the Chinese person is expressing shyness or discomfort, the American guy sees flirtation, or at least attraction.

But getting back to expressions. Let’s do an experiment. Try not to look at meta text (if any)  Bonus points if you provide a sentence that helps clarify what their thoughts/emotions are (in your opinion):

  1. What emotion is this man feeling?


2. What emotion is this woman feeling?

facial expression

3. Are these people laughing or crying? What other possibilities are there?


4. Similar to number 1, I think.  What do you think?  Is she feeling the same as the first guy? If not, what?


Bonus test:

Which of these girls are Asian?  Can you name all three?


Finally, I think my thesis is confirmed. I put the first picture up on twitter, and while everyone agreed it was a negative expression, the specific emotion the guy was feeling varied widely.  Check it out:


10 thoughts on “Facial Expressions

  1. I’m probably one of the worst people in the world at reading faces, but I’ll give it a shot:

    1) My initial thoughts were sadness/depression, but now I’m wondering if it’s just boredom.
    2) That’s some kind of actress-face-thing, that doesn’t represent any human emotion whatsoever.
    3) Looks like laughter to me.
    4) This girl looks pissed off, not at all like #1. I think the difference is in the eyes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for participating!
      The main thing is, there are no right answers.

      My notion is that everyone is pretty bad at just reading facial expressions. We read the body language, tone of voice, attempts to mask facial expressions, etc., as context to the snapshot expression (which we are bad at reading).

      Liked by 1 person

    1. 5) I can understand not knowing who girl #1 is (Fan Bingbing), but the other two? Two major icons from the 80s (albeit different ends of the decade)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Phoebe Cates was the swimming pool scene of Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and Danice McKellar was Winnie in the Wonder Years.

        ..I’ve never seen either of those, actually, and yet I know who they both are, which I thought says something about their pop culture fame.

        Maybe not.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Well, I’ve heard of both of those, never watched them though. maybe you’re just a pervy old man? ;-)

        Nah. I’m not real into pop culture now and I was even less so back then.


      3. I could tell that BingBing was Asian, and I would’ve made a guess of 1/2 Asian for Phoebe. I might have guessed Danica was partially Asian based on her hair and the context of the question, but the picture is at a strange angle making facial features hard to read. I looked online for some other photos of her, and she didn’t appear Asian at all.

        I need to run this quiz by my wife, who is Asian.


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