From 7 to 21 universal emotional expressions, context anyone?

4th April 2014

I was sent a link to an article in The Guardian yesterday. It revealed how scientists at the University of Ohio had compiled a list of 21 ‘compound’ facial expressions to help understand how the brain recognises emotion. It includes a test to see how well you can detect them, I scored 9/10.

Take the test yourself…

Take the test

Our real time communication coaching has used the 7 universal emotional expression, notably as automatic facial micro expressions, as a starting point for our training into better detection, focus and response to what is unintentionally given away in face to face meetings improving the ability to influence others.

I have a question, how many of these new compound emotions may be conscious meta emotions, for example the initial trigger of disgust being every so slightly and briefly covered up with happiness for social convention? In our training we seldom see pure single emotional expression, it is often a compound of emotion. This research is very helpful in this capacity.

I do find static images limited as they do not contain the dynamism of short video footage which better displays changes in emotion and the potential for one emotion being displayed shortly before another.

I also would like to know more about if there has been any consideration to context with these expressions. Its a limitation of lab based research, students are used in university settings and this often fails to consider how a unique state behaviour response to the context and situation we find ourselves in impacts on each of us in displays of facial emotion.

You can visualise the range of emotional expressions as a spectrum with our ability to regulate an emotional middle ground to the binary responses of aggression and fear in potential threat perceived situations. This regulation is the degree in which you keep calm, focused, inquisitive and adaptable in your thinking. These additional expressions may provide further evidence of an automatic middle ground as both a training and therapeutic application.

Best wishes


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