Why The Long Face?

I caught sight of an angry-looking face the other day and was startled, nay horrified, to realise that it was me. I was sitting in a cafe enjoying a coffee and had glanced at my reflection in the window.

It seems I don’t have the kind of face that looks terribly happy when at rest – for some reason my features arrange themselves into this angry line (please don’t ask to look at the photo on my driver’s licence). This is a famous and fairly common phenomenon known as ‘Resting Bitch Face’ (but I note that it affects men and women equally, so there’s an unsurprising touch of misogyny in the phrase). “Give us a smile love!”, and all that. Sigh.

Where was I? Oh yes. I started to wonder if I was secretly very annoyed about something (see above), or generally not very nice. Maybe my face was just doing its best to communicate this fact to others? But it seems that it’s just the way things go – some people have features that ‘settle’ a certain way. I can blame my genes.

In the 1970s the psychologist Paul Ekman carried out experiments to identify the six emotions through facial expressions, even working out which muscles were used each time. Fascinatingly, he and his colleague started to notice that their mood was affected: on days when they had to form frowns they felt down, even after the return home and a good sleep. They discovered that signals arrive in the brain to identify a feeling when facial expressions take place. So emotions seem to work from the outside in, as well as the inside out. You can turn your frown upside down after all. And soon enough your brain will start to believe that all is well. 

Next time I take a coffee break I’ll make an effort to form a smile, even a small one. If nothing else, at least I won’t scare the people walking past the window this time.