Darwin’s exploration of emotion


Charles Darwin goes down in history for his work on the “Origin of the Species” and the role natural selection plays within our evolution. This was written in 1859 when Darwin was 50 years old. Thirteen years later, his curiosity turned to our ability to express emotion and the universality of emotion in the writing of “On the expression of the emotions in man and animals”.

Time, information and our understanding of human emotion have changed quite considerably. One of the biggest parts of this is our understanding of the nervous system and its different states of response (from rest, to fight or flight and to freeze).

He documents his observations on:

  • anger (and the physiological responses during conflict (raised hairs, vocal growls)
  • sadness (and the sobbing/weeping process of grief)
  • joy (high spirits, tender feelings, love)
  • reflection, meditation
  • hatred
  • modesty

What he notes is the commonality of in expressing certain emotions. It is something not taught but an instinctive response.

More recently Jacques Lecoq, Alexander Lowen & Giovanni Fusetti, from their own research go on to identify that there is a commonality of emotion and the movement dynamics in space. Ask a room full of people to move around the room in joy, looking from far away, or blurring your eyes beyond the individuals, the group movement takes on a specific quality. Joy has a natural uprising quality, whilst sadness a sinking, grounding stillness. Similarly anger has direct movement forward, whilst fear retreats back. These are key dimensions in a physical space that connect from the emotions.

There are 2 key aspects to what shapes your face.

  1. Nature – your genetics. (Fascinatingly I believe there is a link between genetic facial structure and Myers-Briggs Character Analysis. I have found that in an ancestral line, individuals with the same faces shapes, have the same Myers Briggs types.)
  2. Nurture – the emotions and life you lead shape the muscle memory, and change dynamics in the face.

When creating a mask, I explore what characters can be created both from the base structures and emotional imprints.

The relationship that we have to the world is predominantly via our face. Our facial expressions communicate our emotions from the inside out. But they also (and this is really quite amazing) enable us to perceive the world. In a recent study with Botox patients, it has been documented that when botox is used to freeze a part of the face, not only can the person not express the emotion, but they can no longer perceive when it is expressed in others.

Research paper: J.-C. Baumeister, G. Papa, F. Foroni. Deeper than skin deep – The effect of botulinum toxin-A on emotion processing. Toxicon, 2016; 118: 86 DOI: 10.1016/j.toxicon.2016.04.044

Expression of emotion is key to our vitality. Darwin documented the beginnings of this research and the patterns of emotion common to all.