Smile, You're Blind: SFSU Prof Says One's Ability To See -- or Not -- Has No Bearing on Facial Expressions

1a.jpgAfter sifting through thousands and thousands of photographs for his latest paper, professor David Matsumoto nearly worked himself blind. But he could still smile -- the San Francisco State psychology professor has made the case that our facial expressions aren't learned by observation but inborn at the genetic level.

Matsumoto's paper, published in this month's edition of Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, is largely based upon his review of many thousands of snapshots of participants at the 2004 Olympics and blind athletes from that year's Paralympic Games taken just at the moment said competitor was realizing the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat. From the paper's abstract:

There were no differences between congenitally blind, noncongenitally blind, and sighted athletes, either on the level of individual facial actions or in facial emotion configurations. ... These findings provide compelling evidence that the production of spontaneous facial expressions of emotion is not dependent on observational learning but simultaneously demonstrates a learned component to the social management of expressions, even among blind individuals.

Also worth noting: Both blind and sighted athletes who had lost matches offered polite "courtesy smiles" during medal ceremonies.  

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