'Not Face' research speaks to evolution of language

Posted: March 29, 2016

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Otherwise known as "casting shade," for the first time research from The Ohio State University Department of Electrical and Computer Engineeering reveals how a look of negative judgement is universally-shared across cultural boundaries.

The Ohio State newsroom recently took a detailed look into the latest work of ECE professor Aleix Martinez in the Computational Biology and Cognitive Science Lab, who co-authored research recently published in the Cognition journal. 

Washington Post writer Rachel Feltman also weighed in on the topic, with some effective use of animated gifs to help get the point across. Even Grumpy Cat can't escape the label

Martinez specializes in computer engineering and how it relates to cognitive science. While researching American Sign Language, he ended up touching upon a whole new realm of data regarding how facial expression relates to human language. 

In his latest work, he explores the hypothesis that expressing negative moral judgment began as simple facial expressions.

Negative moral judgment includes the expressions of "anger, disgust and contempt."

"We called this facial expression the 'not face,'" Martinez writes. "To prove that (it) is indeed easily identified by observers, we demonstrate that the newly identified facial expression of negation is distinct from all known facial expressions of emotion and is, hence, readily visually identifiable by people."

He said scientific evidence strongly supports the view that facial expressions of emotion evolved much earlier than language and are used to communicate with others.

"It is reasonable to hypothesize that some grammaticalized facial expressions evolved through the expression of emotion," Martinez writes.

His research was completed with fellow engineers C. Fabian Benitez-Quiroz and Ronnie B. Wilbur from Purdue University.