For years, scientists studying facial expressions have focused their research on six primary emotions: happiness, surprise, anger, sadness, fear, and disgust.
As a result generations of facial-expression research papers have included panels that look something like this:
(That one is from a paper about cultural differences in the perception of facial expressions.)
Pretty straightforward, right? But when is the last time you saw someone looking just surprised, rather than, say surprised at an impromptu birthday getaway (happy surprise) or surprised at a toddler’s art project, crafted with the media “peanut butter” and “wall” (angry surprise).
Researchers from the Ohio State University suspected that there’s more to the human condition than these six simplest states of being. For example, as they wrote in a study published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, “Appall is the act of feeling disgust and anger with the emphasis being on disgust; i.e., when appalled we feel more disgusted than angry. Hate also involves the feeling of disgust and anger but, this time, the emphasis is on anger.”
To prove that humans could make, and perceive, a wider range of feelings with their faces, the study authors asked 230 subjects to make a face depicting each of the following 20 sentiments: happy, sad, fearful, angry, surprised, disgusted, happily surprised, happily disgusted, sadly fearful, sadly angry, sadly surprised, sadly disgusted, fearfully angry, fearfully surprised, fearfully disgusted, angrily surprised, angrily disgusted, disgustedly surprised, hatred, and awed.