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  • Print publication year: 1997
  • Online publication date: March 2010

5 - The new ethology of human facial expressions


Historically, researchers on facial expressions have tried to forge links between movements of the face and those ineffable states called “emotions” (e.g., Mandler, 1984). The advocates of this “Emotions View” are not homogeneous in all their axioms and precepts, but they share the belief in the centrality of emotion in explaining facial movements. I myself worked within this tradition for many years (e.g., Ekman & Fridlund, 1987; Fridlund, Ekman, & Oster, 1987; Fridlund & Izard, 1983; Fridlund, Schwartz, & Fowler, 1984; Matsumoto, Ekman, & Fridlund, 1990) but began to be troubled by certain insurmountable problems with the approach. My apostacy led to a search for a better way to understand our facial expressions.

I have proposed an alternative (e.g., Fridlund, 1991a, 1994), termed the Behavioral Ecology View, because it derives from modern accounts of the evolution – both genetic and cultural – of signaling behavior. This account, based on work by biologists like Maynard Smith, Hinde, Smith, Krebs, Davies, and Marler, contrasts with the Emotions View of faces (see Izard; Frijda & Tcherkassof; Smith & Scott; chapters 3, 4, and 10, respectively, this volume) in its view of how facial expressions evolved, what they signify, and how they function in our everyday lives. This chapter presents the fundamentals of the Behavioral Ecology View, followed by the reasons why it may afford the better understanding of human facial expressions.

The Behavioral Ecology View of faces

Most theorists within the Emotions View essentially espouse a two-factor model, depicted in Figure 5.1, that posits two basic kinds of faces. First are the innate reflex-like faces that read out ongoing emotion; these are “facial expressions of emotion.”

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The Psychology of Facial Expression
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