Smiling with my eyes

A portrait of the author, aged 8.Crazy-eyed or slack-jawed? If you’ve ever struggled to differentiate between the two you’re not alone, as according to a Japanese behavioural scientist, culture is a determining factor as to whether one looks to the eyes or the mouth to interpret facial expressions.

According to a recently conducted study, Masaki Yuki of Hokkaido University has confirmed what he had always suspected as a child—people in Japan tend to look to the eyes for emotional clues, whereas Americans look to the mouth.

As child he remembers being fascinated by pictures of American celebrities, and in particular, their strange smiles.“They opened their mouths too widely, and raised the corners of their mouths in an exaggerated way.”

In Japan as a rule, people shy away from overt displays of emotion, and rarely smile or frown with their mouths, perhaps as Yuki explains, to conform to the cultural prerequisites of conformity, humility and hidden emotion, all of which are said to promote better relationships.

It could be because Japanese in a social setting try to suppress their emotions more than Americans do, he suggests, and the eyes, more difficult to control than mouth, provide better clues about an emotional state when a person is trying to hide.

So it appears the eyes are the window to the soul after all. The origin of this ancient phrase may be lost in the mists of time, but its truth appears as timely as it ever was. Maybe the great poets knew a thing or two about human nature after all…

Yuki’s study began in the most unlikely of places—email emoticons. As a graduate student communicating with American scholars by email, he was confused by their use of the ubiquitous smiley 🙂 and sad 🙁 faces.

“It took some time before I finally understood that they were faces,” he related. Emoticons in Japan emphasize the eyes, such as the happy face (^_^) and the sad face (;_;).“After seeing the difference between American and Japanese emoticons, it dawned on me that the faces looked exactly like typical American and Japanese smiles.”

The study had American and Japanese students rate the degree of happiness in first computer generated emoticons and then computer manipulated photographs of actual faces, with the following result: Japanese subjects judged expressions based more on the eyes than the mouth, rating those with sad eyes as less happy their American counter-parts.

Which makes me feel a little better about my own since childhood disposition not to broadly smile.

“But I’m smiling with my eyes…”

I See
I see tears in his eyes.
They look so beautiful.
I see tears in his heart.
They prove so soulful.
I see tears in his soul.
They are so fruitful.
I see his eyes smiling.
I enjoy it.
I see his heart smiling.
I value it.
I see his soul smiling.
I treasure it.
—Sri Chinmoy

(Excerpt from The Dance Of Life, Part 13 by Sri Chinmoy.)

Related Posts:

  • I've Got Nothing