Raised eyebrows or a shake of the head can mean different things in different parts of the world. But six facial expressions can be understood everywhere.

The first two universal facial expressions are

theatre mask joy JOY

theatre mask sadness ...and SADNESS

The other four facial expressions everyone understands

cartoon facial expression - fear FEAR

cartoon facial expression - angry ANGER

facial expression - surprise SURPRISE

facial expression - disgust DISGUST

Joy and sadness, together with fear and anger are the four most basic human emotions. Surprise and disgust may be secondary, but they are recognised by everyone.

The facial expressions may be mite exaggerated here. Even, heaven forbid, not totally accurate!

All the same, these 'six basic facial expressions' are taken from research by the anthropologist Paul Ekman. There may be small inherited differences, but we all know these six expressions. We can usually sense if someone is trying to fake them. The genuine versions are not under conscious control.


Body language - and in particular, 'face language', communicates more powerfully than words. Messages pass between us silently - and for the most part, we don't even know they're there.

Have you ever caught yourself smiling, frowning or even making gestures with your hands while you're talking on the phone? Unless you're on a video call, the person you're talking to can't see you, but you do it anyway. In fact it's quite hard to talk with a completely expressionless face. Hence the rise of emoticons for email and texting. :o) Like them or not, emoticons and smileys help to get a feeling across when words might be misunderstood.

What made the smiley smile? . Sad faces

Angry faces . The Seven Faces of Fear

(c) Valerie Beeby

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