See also Apraxia

Copyright © 1998 - 2001 (David B. Givens/Center for Nonverbal Studies)



Facial sign. 1. A neutral, relaxed, seemingly "expressionless" FACE. 2. The face in repose, with eyes open and lips closed. 3. A condition in which the neck, jaw, and facial muscles are neither stretched nor contracted. 4. An "emotionless" face, whose muscle tone reflects a mood of calmness. 5. The deadpan face we adopt alone when, e.g., at home while resting, reading, or watching TV.

Usage: Though "expressionless," the blank face sends a strong emotional MESSAGE: "Do Not Disturb." In shopping malls, elevators, or subways, e.g., we adopt neutral faces to distance ourselves from strangers. The blank face is a subtle sign used to keep others a polite distance away. (N.B.: A blank face with naturally downturned lips and creased FROWN lines may appear "angry" as well.)

RESEARCH REPORTS: 1. "Regardless of whether a person intends to take a line [verbally or nonverbally], he will find that he has come to do so in effect. The other participants will assume that he has more or less willfully taken a stand . . ." (Goffman 1967:5). 2. Infants 7-to-12 weeks old interacting with mothers whose faces were voluntarily immobilized became unhappy and puzzled, grimaced, stared at their own fisted hands, avoided mother's eyes, and made quick glances at the mother (Trevarthen 1977:267). 3. The normal face: "No special expression present but face not slack as in sleep" (Brannigan and Humphries 1972:59). 4. Infants 4-and-6 months old looked significantly more at joyful faces than at angry or neutral-expression faces; the latter two received equal attention (LaBarbera et al. 1976). 5. A review of research on the neutral face shows that, even though faces at rest emote no clear emotions, people respond as though they do. Neutral faces "seem to have a perceptual status comparable to a prototypical expression of basic emotion" (Carrera-Levillain and Fernandez-Dols 1994:282).

Neuro-notes. The unconscious, background level of muscle tone in our face is set by the brain stem's reticular activating system. In the blank face, muscle tone is neither aroused nor sedated, but "normal." Studies show that, as in monkeys, for whom the face sends important emotional signs, neurons in our forebrain's AMYGDALA "respond briskly" to the sight of another person's face (LaDoux 1996:254). Faces, like emotions themselves, are considered pleasant or unpleasant, rarely ever neutral. Imaging studies suggest that while encoding a picture of a face, three brain areas--the temporal cortex, hippocampus, and left prefrontal cortex--show high levels of activity.

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