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

  • Almost yes I can reading faces. Specially when the person who faced me has many situations with me. I can recognize who’s love me and who’s not. Also when I get angry or happy etc , this appers on my face

  • i think the smile on our face is the best communicate way to others. It has strong power to open relationship with each other.
    from fan Spotlight – Vietnamese

  • Thanks Spotlight a lot! This information helps me so much in my communication. I used not to think much about this. Now, I know it’s very important that helps our relationships more better.

  • The iteam is usegull for first timr i knew the facial expersion so now am able to deal with pepole from their faces expersion.
    Thanks spot Light.

  • This episode gives me a piece of interesting information about our facial expressions. With me, I think I’m a good reading faces person. I used to use my face to communicate with other people such as my colleagues, friends, and even though with some strange people I met the first time.

  • I think everyone can read people face’s expressions but sometimes we don’t pay attention on them. Such behavior hurts our relationships.
    Thanks a lot Spotlight.

  • I don’t know that! But I have very clear facial expressions. Everyone notices when I don’t like something.

  • When I talking face to face with someone, They have comment about me like I have serious face communication. So I think in the eyes of public i have serious face communication. But I love people’s who have smiley face reading I really wanna like to have a smiley face reading …!!

  • This is usefull knowledge experience that help me improve facial expression in daily lifes. The voice of two MC are so clearly and sweet which practice listening skills. Appriciate about program.

  • IDK, but I think some people can’t know that they will make other feeling not comfortable by their expression. It’s mean they don’t deliberate. This emotion is maybe fixed emotions.

  • When someone doing a bad thing for me or says a bad word I just use a Facial expression to give them their answer. it’s better than a million words for some people.

  • I never want to express my feel by my face.
    But sometimes, it show naturally and I can’t realize that.
    Such as I happy when I achieved my goals, angry when my boss shouts at me or surprise,… My face will change and other people can realize my feel immediately.

  • I believe I am extremely good at reading people’s faces; these expressions are straightforward and fully understood by me; all that is required is a little attention to the facial expressions of everyone. My face communicates many things to people; I can be happy, surprised, or any combination of these emotions at any given time. Recognizing some of my facial expressions is not difficult.

  • I believe I am not good at reading faces. I am just a basic look at the face of other people and I suggest their emotions at the moment being. Example, They are smiling indicating they are pleased or they are frowning meaning they are furious. I also am practicing conversing face to face. I frequently have a very bright grin to convey the contrary. If I hadn’t had fun I would explain why I hadn’t fun and my face displays the following emotions. In a nutshell, whether I become furious or pleased,… something shows on my face.

  • I believe I am very good at reading people’s expressions. The expressions on their faces told me that something was wrong in a lot of cases. From there, I can maintain good behavior or console, and I can watch out for my friends. Keep an eye on them for a short period of time, I believe you can notice it. However, I have several friends who are excellent at hiding their emotions. It’s just that they always have a smile on their face. I’m not good at reading people’s faces. When people first meet me, they comment that I have an ice-cold expression on my face. But I’m not unapproachable; in fact, I’m always delighted to speak with them, and as a result, they seem to have a new outlook after speaking with me. My closest pals have a natural ability to interpret my expressions. [I’ll be honest, I’m not very good at concealing my feelings.

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