A smile can sound and it is contagious.

    In recent years, scientists have been actively studying the relationship of smile and sound. According to some studies, people are able to perceive a smile not only visually, but also acoustically.

    Read more about this under the cut.

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    Photo by johnnyknowing / CC


    One of the first scientists who investigated visual recognition of emotions was Charles Darwin. Neurobiologists from Brown University and Melbourne University studied the archive of a famous naturalist and published an article about his “emotional” experiment in the Journal of the History of the Neurosciences. According to the publication, Darwin showed his friends photos of people with different facial expressions.

    All images were taken by a neurologist Guillaume Duchesne during experiments with contractions of facial muscles. The participants in the experiment correctly identified the emotions in the photographs. Based on this experience, Darwin suggested that people of different cultures and nationalities express their emotions with the help of universal facial expressions.

    This experiment became the forerunner of modern research on cross-cultural recognition of facial expressions and pushed for a more extensive study of this topic.

    Professor of psychology at Knox College, Francis Macandrew ( Frank McAndrew ) conducted a series of studies on facial expressions and non-verbal communication. In an interview for the popular science magazine Scientific American, he noted that people do not have the need to learn to smile - this is already “pre-programmed” behavior. For this reason, sighted and blind from birth children smile the same in the same situations.

    Scientists agree with him at the University of California at San Francisco. They believe that “ facial expression is programmed into our genes". Psychologists have analyzed more than 4 thousand photographs of Paralympic and Olympic athletes. It turned out that blind people use the same facial expressions as sighted. During the medal ceremony, 85% of silver medalists smiled the same. They used only the muscles of the mouth, but did not use other muscles that narrow the eyes and lift the cheeks.

    Smile and sound

    A smile not only externally changes a person’s face, but can influence how we speak. To this conclusion, scientists from the University of Portsmouth. They shot a video of the interview, where one group of participants in the experiment answered absurd questions.

    Based on the record, psychologists identified four main types of smiles in speaking people. Then they gave another group of subjects to listen to their answers. Listeners correctly identified each type of smile by voice. Thus, people are able to perceive a smile at the ear. Psychologists suggest that a smile and other facial expressions affect a person on a subconscious level. It is believed that there are about 50 different types of smiles - from jubilant to sad.

    Photo by David Stewart CC

    Cognitivists from the National Center for Scientific Research of France (CNRS) went further in studying the relationship between facial expressions and sound. The task of scientists was to understand how people react to the "auditory smile."

    The fact that a smile can be contagious , scientists wrote in the XVIII century. It is known that motor facial expressions, including the genuine “ Duchenne 's smile, ” can cause a similar muscle response in the viewer. However, as noted by one of the authors of the study, Pablo Arias (Pablo Arias), until that moment almost no one had studied how a person reacts, perceiving a smile at the ear.

    As a result of the experimentFrench researchers have found that added to the recordings of speech, the sound of a smile can make a person reflexively imitate it. In their work, they relied on previous research on the relationship between voice and facial expressions.

    The experiment took place in several stages. At first, Arias and his colleagues analyzed how the participants in the experiment sounded when they smiled and did not smile. Then they developed and patented software that mimicked the acoustic effect of the lips, stretched into a smile. The principle of the program does not depend on the sex of the person, the height of his voice, as well as the speed of speech or its content.

    The 35 participants in the experiment wore electrodes on their faces and watched the movement of their faces. Upon hearing the recording, where the program artificially added the sound of a smile, the participants unconsciously included in the work large zygomatic muscles . According to previous studies, such facial expressions are found when people see smiles and repeat them in response.

    “These results show that there are similar neural mechanisms for processing both visual and audible mimic components,” says Arias.

    You can join the experiment on the official CNRS page on the SoundCloud website . There are two records posted by the participants.

    Significance of research

    Research into the relationship between facial expressions and sound can help understand why people with autism experience disturbances in the interpretation of emotions. “We can understand how autists react to artificially generated emotional signals in speech,” says the French scientist.

    The ability of the program to work with different languages ​​may be of interest to companies such as Google and Amazon. It will help improve their speech recognition and synthesis systems.

    At the moment, the cognitive program is using the program to study the sounds of anger. The task of scientists in the future is to understand how and why people hear smiles and, possibly, other signals of mimicry.

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