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Smile Anatomy: Emotional Self Regulation and Facial Expression Muscle Measurement and Training

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positivepsychology.net Headlined to H1 5/25/15


Originally published as a chapter in Jeffrey Cram's book Clinical Surface EMG Volume 2, in 1989

EMG self awareness and control techniques can be used to train individuals to increase awareness and voluntary control of their emotional states, volitionally facilitating positive feelings, attitudes and expectancies.

Our muscles not only move us through our world, they also mediate our experiencing of it.

This chapter describes how conventional relaxation biofeedback, and zygomaticus biofeedback training paradigms can be readily integrated into an emotional self regulation model for optimizing the individual's capacity and ability to make the most of positive experience opportunities and to maximize positive affect and attitude.

Biobehavioral patients (Pain, stress, anxiety, somatic dysfunction, phobia, behaviorally exacerbated medical illness) tend to tighten muscles, constrict their peripheral vasculature and emotional response range, and narrow and rigidify their selective perceptual pattern of viewing their environment so they often miss or less-than-optimally respond to positive opportunities. After they've learned relaxation and stress regulation techniques they are still in need of emotional expression skills so they can make the most of opportunities for positive experience.

 

The ability to express emotion effectively, to be aware of feelings before one acts, and to perceive the emotional expressions of others has helped humans to survive the Darwinian evolutional selection process of the survival of the fittest. The Neanderthal who could sense and control his fear so he didn't scream, saved his family from detection.

The warm and affectionate Cro Magnon man was more likely to connect with a mate and keep her with him so he could father several children-- thus perpetuating his genes. The Peking man with a sense of humor could laugh his way out of an argument.

Emotions: The Same Language All Over The World

Our feelings are connected to our faces. When we make faces, we activate a universal human response programmed into our bodies before birth. Charles Darwin wrote in his 1872 book, The Expression Of The Emotions In Man And Animals, that emotions are not learned, but rather, biologically determined. About 100 years later, research psychologists Paul Ekman and Carrol Izard independently travelled around the world to observe the faces people make to express different emotions. In every culture, every country they studied, they found that people smiled to express happiness, scowled when feeling angry, and made the same faces to express fear, disgust, and other basic emotions.

From commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Smiling_girl_and_man_from_Darwin's_Expression_of_Emotions..._Wellcome_L0049516.jpg: Smiling girl and man from Darwin's book,  Expression of Emotions in Man And Animals
Smiling girl and man from Darwin's book, Expression of Emotions in Man And Animals
(Image by Wikipedia (commons.wikimedia.org))
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This universal set of facial expressions strongly suggests that the most common emotional expressions are not learned, like the hundreds of spoken languages, but rather, are wired into our nervous systems. We smile or frown because the facial expressions are programmed, through our genes, into our being. The dog's bark and cat's meow, the shocked look of surprise, the sneer of disgust and the happy smile are woven into the spiral helix of the DNA that spells out the definition and specifications of each species.

Just as hair and skin color, height and nose shape are passed along from parent to child, many of the facial muscles and other body parts that express emotion are also hereditarily influenced, giving some people blinding smiles, with flashing gums. or distorted attempts at smiles which produce barely perceptible movements at the corners of the mouth.

Emotional Illiteracy

Emotional expression starts at birth with crying and takes many weeks or months to begin blooming. Parents lovingly work to cultivate those first smiles, coos and laughs. Long before the child can deevelops language skills, he can cry, scream or smile anything out of Mama or Papa. Once walking and talking begin, our culture shifts all the emphasis there, almost forgetting emotional communication skills entirely. Emotional expression training tapers off, with few if any conscious efforts at the emotional equivalent of grammar training or vocabulary building or further development of the language of emotions. We're left to fend for ourselves.

Over 100 years ago a debate on one of the most important aspects of human emotion began. What comes first? Does something which happens in our environment, like the screeching of tires, set off a racing heart beat so we feel the pounding in the chest and become aware of the emotion? Or do we hear the tires, feel the fear and become fearful, thus setting the heart racing?

Pioneer psychologist, William James, took this position in the debate, " An emotion of fear, for example, or surprise, is not a direct effect of these objects's presence on the mind, but an effect of that still easier effect, the bodily commotion which the object suddenly excites; so that, were this bodily commotion suppressed, we should not so much feel fear as call the situation fearful; we should not feel surprise.., but coldly recognize that the object was indeed astonishing. ...the mere giving way to tears, for example, or to the outward expression of an anger-fit, will result for the moment in making the inner grief or anger more acutely felt."

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Rob is the publisher of positivepsychology.net and has been involved with Positive Psychology since the early 1980's at least as early as 1981. He gave his first presentation at a national professional meeting in 1985, and offered workshops, (more...)
 

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