Researchers have found that we all express disagreement in a universal way; the lifted chin, furrowed brow, and pressed-together lips seem to be present on the faces of people around the world when they express this negative emotion.
Disagreement is a mix of disgust, anger, and contempt, according to research, and speakers of English, Mandarin, Spanish, and American Sign Language (ASL) all use it in the same way when the show negative moral judgment.
According to a new study featured in the journal Cognition, in ASL you don’t use any negative sign, you just use this “not face” to indicate disagreement in a sentence.
Alex Martinez, a cognitive scientist and professor of electrical and computer engineering at The Ohio State University, says that sometimes the only way to tell a sentence is meant to be negative is the fact that the person makes the ‘not face’ when they sign it.
Martinez’s team previously identified six basic emotions (happiness, fear, sadness, surprise, anger, and disgust) that can be combined into 21 distinct facial emotions, including the happy surprise or shocked surprise, for example or the kind of happy disgust face we might make when we hear poop jokes.
So researchers went to answer an interesting question: is there a basic expression to indicate disapproval that can be found across cultures?
The team reasoned that since disagreement, disapproval, and disgust are foundational emotions in communication, there must be a universal facial expression for these emotions that evolved early on in human history.
For the experiment, researchers enrolled 158 university students and filmed them having casual conversations in their native tongue.
Some of the participants spoke English; others were native Spanish, Mandarin Chinese or ASL speakers. It is noteworthy that these languages have different origins and different grammatical structures.
For example, Spanish is in the Latin family, English is Germanic, while Mandarin developed independently from both. But ASL’s origins are even more mixed, as it developed in the 1800s from French combined with a local sign language systems; its grammatical structure is distinct from English.
Interestingly enough, these differences didn’t matter when the participants in the groups made the “not face.” The expression was elicited when the researchers asked the students some questions they were likely to answer in the negative, such as, “Do you think tuition should increase by 30 percent?”
With the help of an algorithm that helped track facial muscle movement, Martinez’s team found the same combination of anger, disgust and contempt appearing on the speakers’ faces, regardless of their first language.
Image Source: Intro Psych