Almost all of our adult facial expressions have their roots in our very first expression: the scream we made when we first emerged into this world.
The facial expression of sadness is, of course, the most directly related to our original cry; but certain elements of the baby's scream also appear in the expression of anger, disgust, and fear. Even laughter and joy include certain muscle contractions that we first experience in crying.
The various forms of sadness— weeping, dry-eyed grief, mild distress—differ from each other mainly in intensity. All are closely based on the infant's cry but are progressively more restrained. The long habit—going back to infancy—of connecting any level of distress with crying causes certain muscles of the face to contract involuntarily as though one were going to cry even when we are not. This preparation creates a facial pattern that, even when just barely evident, unmistakably portrays unhappiness.
The subtlety of the sad face makes it particularly interesting. All expressions are clear enough in their most extreme form, but certain sad faces can be universally recognized even when the traces of the sad brow, eye, or mouth verge on the invisible. There is always less agreement about fear, anger, surprise, and even disgust.
The Screaming Mouth: From "Ah" to "Wahhhh"_
A crying baby is impossible to ignore. The cry protects it. A less grating noise might be given lower priority by a parent in the hustle and bustle of daily life.
The effectiveness of the square mouth shape all babies rely on can be easily demonstrated. Make an "ah" sound with your mouth in its relaxed, oval position. The sound is pleasant. Now, continuing the "ah," stretch your lower lip off to the sides and bare your upper teeth. The "ah" becomes a "wah," a much harsher sound.
The square crying mouth is created by an upward pull and an outward pull. The outward pull, the work of risorius/ platysma, is very intense, stressfully tightening and straightening the lower lip. The upward pull of the middle branch of the sneering muscle is much milder, but is still strong enough to square-off the upper lip and create the nose-to-mouth fold. The cheeks puff up smartly, pulled up by both the sneering muscle and the contraction of the muscles around the eye.
The mentalis almost always contracts when we cry as well. This pouting muscle, which normally pushes up the middle of the lips and balls up the chin, has a slightly different effect in the cry; the sobbing lower lip is so tight it can't be moved very much, so the action of the mentalis just bows it upward in the middle.
Because of the upward push of the mentalis, many mistakenly described the unhappy lower lip as having a downward pull; in fact, it is being pushed upward in the center, then pulled outward. If you watch a baby cry, you see the mentalis clench and unclench spasmodically, bowing and unbowing the lip.
Mouth squaring plus eye squeezing equals the cry. One-half of the facial expression of crying is based on the changes that occur as the face forces the mouth into a rectangular shape. The other half is created by the clenching of all the muscles around the eye, which occurs as a response to what happens with the mouth.
The Clenched Eye_
The "clenched eye" is created by the contraction of the orbicularis oculi and part of the corrugator. When these muscles contract, they cause us to squint hard, pressing in on the eye.
We instinctively press in on the eye when it is subjected to certain sorts of stress, like that in crying. When we cry, air is forced from the lungs with more force than usual. A chain-reaction leads from lung to eye, with the end result that the capillaries of the eye become enlarged, creating stress. To counteract this stress we squeeze the eyeball with the orbicularis oculi and corrugator, relieving some of the discomfort.
The more intense the cry, the more intense the contraction surrounding the eyeball. Similar explosions of air, as in sneezing and coughing, create exactly the same response. The action of sneezing is so linked to closing the eye that if you force your eye to stay open you will prevent an oncoming sneeze.
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