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Thursday, January 15, 2009

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

Posted By on Thu, Jan 15, 2009 at 8:30 AM

After 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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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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