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Biol Psychol. 2003 Dec;65(1):49-66.

Signal characteristics of spontaneous facial expressions: automatic movement in solitary and social smiles.

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University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, USA.


The assumption that the smile is an evolved facial display suggests that there may be universal features of smiling in addition to the basic facial configuration. We show that smiles include not only a stable configuration of features, but also temporally consistent movement patterns. In spontaneous smiles from two social contexts, duration of lip corner movement during the onset phase was independent of social context and the presence of other facial movements, including dampening. These additional movements produced variation in both peak and offset duration. Both onsets and offsets had dynamic properties similar to automatically controlled movements, with a consistent relation between maximum velocity and amplitude of lip corner movement in smiles from two distinct contexts. Despite the effects of individual and social factors on facial expression timing overall, consistency in onset and offset phases suggests that portions of the smile display are relatively stereotyped and may be automatically produced.

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