Why Video: Human Facial Expression of Emotion is Universal

Last Updated September 12th, 2014

“Facial expressions of emotion are not only universally recognized and produced. Several lines of research indicate that they are biologically innate” (p 29).

Humans are awesome. And not using video is passing up on a more human way to communicate!


I recently read a book that blends research about nonverbal communication with practical applications of that research. A key takeaway about facial expression of emotion: there’s a universality to the way we express it ourselves and to the way read it from others.

Again, humans are awesome!


Further, the emotional responses triggered by reading other peoples’ faces set off a series of other processes within us, including cognitive processes.

Trust, rapport, and credibility are just some of the qualities we judge consciously and subconsciously in reading others through these processes.


In other words, we connect and communicate most effectively in person. When you can’t be there in person, be there in person with simple videos, an effective medium to connect with other humans.


Why Video: Humans, Faces, Expression, Emotions, and Universality


Nonverbal Communication: Facial Expression of Emotion

Here are 3 ideas shared in Chapter 2 “Facial Expressions” in Nonverbal Communication: Science and Applications edited by David Matsumoto, Mark G. Frank, and Hyi Sung Hwang.

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1. The facial expression of emotion is universal across all people. We all express similar emotions in similar ways. That universality transcends all the divisions we see and make amongst ourselves.

“These findings are impressive, given that they have been produced by different researchers around the world, in different laboratories, using different methodologies, with participants from many different cultures, but all converging on the same pattern of results. Thus today there is strong evidence for the universal facial expressions of seven emotions.” (p 29).

One of the studies outlined compares the facial muscle movements and facial emotional expression of blind athletes and sighted athletes. In both victory and despair, the faces of both blind and sighted athletes were nearly identical statistically. Several other studies, most of them cross-cultural, produced similar results. Hence, the conclusion the editors reach in the quote above.


2. The ability to read these facial expressions of emotion is also universal; we all do it naturally and involuntarily.

“Facial expressions of emotion are universal. That is, the ability to read facial expressions of emotion can help you in interactions with anyone regardless of his or her race, culture, ethnicity, nationality, sex, religion, or age. It doesn’t matter what languages are spoken, either; even if you work through an interpreter, you can read the emotional expressions of the person you are talking to.” (p 16)

“Because facial expressions of emotion are part of our evolutionary history and are a biologically innate ability, we all have the ability to read facial expressions of emotion.” (p 41)


3. Reading emotion in others’ faces triggers a variety of subsequent responses.

“Emotions prepare us for behavior.” (p 16)

“Reading emotions in others can help you gain insights about a person’s personality, motivations, and intentions. It can help you build rapport and establish relationships. It can help you get the person’s whole story, reliably and accurately. It can help you vet individuals, establish credibility and evaluate truthfulness. It can help in any situation involving negotiation, persuasion, and influence.” (p 16)

“When triggered, emotions orchestrate other systems such as perception, attention, inference, learning, memory, goal choice, motivational priorities, physiological reactions, motor behaviors, and behavioral decision making.” (p 18)

“Emotions do this because they are immediate, automatic, involuntary, and unconscious reactions.” (p 15)

Reading microexpressions of emotion “could benefit the development of rapport, trust, and collegiality in making credibility assessments … providing the basis for better cooperation, negotiation, or sales.” (p 38)


Again, Why Video?

In connecting with customers and with people considering using BombBomb, we often talk about subtlety, nuance, emotion, sincerity, gratitude, and all the other nonverbal cues that are inherent in simple videos. And by simple, I mean your webcam at your desk or your mobile phone anywhere you are … talking to someone in video rather than typing out all those same words.

We know this is a better way to connect with people because we experience it ourselves and hear it from our customers every day.

This concept of universality of facial expression of emotion – both on the sending and receiving side – helps explain why.

In short: Our faces all speak the same language. And that language is a trigger for other thoughts and feelings.

Simple videos are a more human way to communicate.


Share Your Face in Video Email

Click here to try BombBomb free for 2 weeks – no credit card info required. You’ll be able to send an unlimited number of emails and video emails to up to 50 people. It’s a more natural, human, and effective way to communicate.

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These many faces of Matt come from a photo shoot for our Team page. See more faces of BombBomb right here.

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Ethan Beute | About The Author

Chief Evangelist at BombBomb, host of The Customer Experience Podcast, and Wall Street Journal bestselling co-author of Human-Centered Communication and Rehumanize Your Business, Ethan Beute collects and tells stories of clearer communication, human connection, and higher conversion through simple, personal video messages. BA: University of Michigan. MBA: University of Colorado-Colorado Springs.

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