What Is Your Face Saying?

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Liz Waid and Bruce Gulland look at how the human face communicates. Do you know what messages your face is sending?

Voice 1 

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Liz Waid.

Voice 2 

And I’m Bruce Gulland. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live

Voice 1 

Two eyes. One nose. Lips surrounding a mouth. These simple parts help make up one of the most important part of people’s bodies – the face! You may think your face is just a simple part of your body. But it may be far more important than you think. Do you know what messages your face is sending? Today’s Spotlight is on the human face.

Click here to follow along with this program on YouTube.

Voice 2 

You are happy! Smile! Now you feel anger. Frown! Point the corners of your mouth down. Make a crease, or line, in the skin above your eyes. By moving your face into these positions, people already know how you feel. You do not even have to say a single word. In fact, some experts believe that your face can produce more than 10,000 different expressions!

Voice 1 

All these expressions are possible because of the muscles in your face. They form a kind of mask over your skull. They are over your forehead, around your eyes, on your nose, through your cheeks, around your mouth, and down your chin. Your face is covered in muscles! To make an expression, you can move a few muscles at the same time. Or you can move only one muscle. Each combination is a different facial expression.

Voice 2 

The expressions on your face send a message to the person who is looking at you. Without using words people can understand how you are really feeling. These facial expressions are a form of non-verbal communication. But did you know that your face may also be sending a message even if you do not want it to?

a young man
What expression is this man making?
Voice 1 

The BBC produced a special series of programs about faces called “The Human Face.” In this program they followed the story of a married couple in England called Eden and Mandy. Eden and Mandy were having a difficult time in their relationship. They fought often. They thought their marriage was probably over! But they decided to try one more thing.

Voice 2 

Mandy and Eden flew to the United States to meet with Dr. John Gottman. Dr. Gottman is a psychologist, a scientist who studies people. The BBC’s “The Human Face” program described how Dr. Gottman attached machines to Eden and Mandy. He asked Eden and Mandy to talk to each other. As they talked, Dr. Gottman and his team of scientists observed how Eden and Mandy’s bodies changed while they talked.

Voice 1 

Dr. Gottman found that arguing was hurting Eden and Mandy’s relationship. But he also believed there was more. Their facial expressions were making things worse! As they fought, Eden and Mandy began to exchange looks of disgust and contempt. These expressions communicate hate and a lack of respect. Eden and Mandy never said they hated each other. But their facial expressions were communicating the message even without words.

Voice 2 

This might make you think about your own facial expressions. What are you communicating with your face? Can you see what other people are communicating with their faces? Experts say that facial expressions are not always the same between cultures. For example, people in one culture may use their eyes more to communicate a message. They will notice when the eyes are more open or closed. They will notice the lines around the other person’s eyes. Reading a person’s face is something we just do. We do not think about it.

Voice 1 

However, experts say there are at least seven facial expressions that everyone on earth can recognize. They are universal expressions. These expressions are happiness, sadness, anger, fear, surprise, contempt, and disgust. You can probably easily imagine what each of these expressions look like. You do not need language to communicate these feelings – your face can communicate them for you – whether you want it to or not!

7 universal expressions
7 Universal Facial Expressions
By Icerko Lýdia – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=25584633
Voice 2 

Have you ever been around a baby? If you have, you know that making funny faces will usually make a baby react, and maybe even laugh. Babies love to see different faces. When does this ability to recognize different facial expressions appear?

Voice 1 

Many scientists have studied how babies react to faces. We do know that babies recognize faces very soon after they are born. In 1974, researchers studied babies who were about nine minutes old. They showed the babies a picture of a face, a picture of shapes, or an empty page. When researchers moved the picture, they observed the babies. Researchers found that babies looked at the picture of a face longer than the other pictures.

a baby with a skeptical expression
Image by ursula_irwin from Pixabay
Voice 2 

Even a few hours after they are born, babies will recognize their mother’s face. They will look at their mother’s face longer than they look at another woman’s face. After a few days, babies can see the difference between a sad or happy face. They begin to copy the expression on a face. And around five months later, babies can recognize that a sad voice goes with a sad face.

Voice 1 

Researchers do not know exactly why or how babies develop these abilities so quickly. It may be that this is an important skill for survival. Babies around eight months old begin to change their behavior based on their mothers’ facial expressions. In one study, researchers looked at one-year-olds. They wanted the babies to walk down a small incline. When the mothers smiled at the babies, the babies walked down the small hill. But when the mothers frowned, the babies did not go down.

Voice 2 

Our faces communicate a lot of information — at every age! We can use our faces to give a message. And we can understand what people are thinking just by seeing their face. Researchers try to understand why we need these skills. Some experts say that people who are good at reading faces have a better chance at building relationships, getting a job, and working well with others. That is, our faces help us to be a part of a community. They connect us with other people.

Voice 1 

Have you ever thought about what your face communicates to others? What does your face show? Tell us what you think. You can leave a comment on our website. Or email us at contact@spotlightenglish.com. You can also find us on Facebook and YouTube.

Voice 2 

The writer of this program was Liz Waid. The producer was James Totton. The voices you heard were from the United States and the United Kingdom. You can listen to this program again, and read it, at www.spotlightenglish.com. This program is called “What Is Your Face Saying?.”

Voice 1 

Visit our website to download our free official app for Android and Apple devices. We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye!


Are you good at reading faces? What does your face communicate?

Join the discussion

  • have you ever thought about what your face communicates to others?
    No, I never thought about it
    what does your face show?
    I’m very serious but i’m not
    Are you good at reading faces?
    I’m not
    What does your face communicate?
    Anger and dislike more than anything

  • I’m not good at reading faces because I don’t pay much attention to other people.
    my face communicates my feelings and then they notice how much i have something

  • Yes i know reading faces because it’s very important in communication with other people. My face communicate tiredness,trust and friendliness

  • Are you good at reading faces? I think im good reading faces
    What does your faces communicate? I think how i’m feeling

  • 2.- our face can produce more than 10,000 different expressions!
    3.- All these expressions are possible because of the muscles in your face
    4.- These expressions are happiness, sadness, anger, fear, surprise, contempt, and disgust.

  • Are you good at reading faces? What does your face communicate?

    Maybe I’m not good at reading faces unless they’re very obvious.

    But if I am a person who has many facial expressions, but usually of happiness.

  • I’m not very good at reading faces.
    most people think I have an angry face. but I think my face communicates seriousness.

  • I don’t think so, I usually make mistakes reading other people’s faces.
    I think my face communicates peace and wisdom.

  • Yes, i’m pretty good. I think that it’s difficult to someone try to hind me something. My face communicate sometimes a lot, sometimes not. Depends if I want to.

  • Yes, I thought about my face expressions when i communicated with other. I really know what my face gives other. I think this year show and print inside me a huge gash. I feel as a broken wing and i have many conflicts emotional. But i shows my expressions to others reverse inside my soul.i pray to goddess more than other time before and iam confident that my god will answer me.

  • I think Iam one of the people who can read people well because I can see the person and their feelings behind what they show pretty well and quickly it’s like a natural gift and so I can pretty quickly build rapport with people but as a person myself I don’t like staying around with people too much iam much more an introvert but I like my small group of close friends when I communicate with them all and my cousins especially. They are the only one I can stand being around for a long period of time without feeling overwhelmed or irritated

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