Science Summary

Facial expressions of emotion are the cues we rely on most for communication with others. Our primary emotions of happiness, sadness, fear, anger and disgust, are considered universal [1,2].

Specific brain systems have evolved to respond automatically to these facial emotion cues [3,4]. These systems involve subcortical regions of the brain like the amygdala, involved in fear and intense emotional reactions, and the basal ganglia involved in reward related processing.

Expressions of fear communicate potential dangers, and are identified by cues like widened eyes and raised eyebrows (which make the whites of the eyes stand out) [5].

Expressions of happiness communicate openness to social engagement. We identify genuine smills by cues like the ‘crows feet’ at the side of the eyes [6]. Picking up these cues can occur quickly, within a fifth of a second, and without conscious awareness. Effective processing of emotion cues is central to making the most of everyday communication.

1. Williams LM, Mathersul D, Palmer DM, Gur RC, Gur RE, Gordon E. (2009). Explicit identification and implicit recognition of facial emotions: I. Age effects in males and females across 10 decades. Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology (in press).

2. Ekman P. 1993. Facial expression of emotion. American Psychologist, 48, 384-392

3. Williams LM, Gordon E. (2007). Neuroscientist, 13, 349-370.

4. Adolphs R. (2002). Current Opinion in Neurobiology, 12,169-77.

5. Whalen PJ, et al. (2004). Science. 306, 2061

6. Williams LM, Senior C, David AS, Loughland CM, Gordon E. (2001). In search of the Duchenne smile: Evidence from eye movements. Journal of Psychophysiology, 15, 122 - 127.

Self Regulation Skills
Positivity-Negativity Bias


Social Capacity

Feeling Skills
Stress Level

Anxiety Level

Depressed Mood Level

Thinking Skills
Sustained Attention


Controlled Attention


Executive Function

Processing Speed

Recall Memory

Working Memory

Motor Coordination

Emotion Skills
Identifying Emotions

Emotion Bias