Have you ever looked at a perfect stranger and known, just by their facial expression, exactly how they are feeling?

Here’s another question for you: does that work anywhere? Does your face of surprise or happiness translate around the globe? In the quest for the universals of human nature, perhaps we need to look no further than the face staring back at us in the mirror.

Image: Boy in a striped shirt smiling. Smiling is a facial expression, example of one of the universal expressions of emotion.

Source: Pixabay

Though Charles Darwin is best known for his work on the theory of evolution, he was also interested in discovering if there were universal expressions of emotion.

He theorized that emotional expressions shared commonalities across cultures. 1 At the time, this wasn’t a popular idea. Most of his contemporaries and many scientists that followed believed that expressions were learned, and not common.

In the 1960’s though, the psychologist Paul Ekman began to study facial expression and emotion in humans, and his work shed light on the universality of our emotions. To help us dive a little deeper into this question of the fundamental nature of our expression, here’s a great video from TED-Ed.

Via: TED-Ed 2

What do these universal expressions of emotion mean for any of us as we walk through our lives?

When we see images of people in countries far from us on the television in mourning or celebration, will a better understanding of our common expressions help us to connect at a deeper level? The next time I am struck by the image of a stranger, knowing about this part of our humanity will certainly make that experience more profound.

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It goes without saying that sometimes we have to remember these commonalities. My furrowed brow and yours express the same frustrations. My elated smile and yours exude the same feelings of joy. We are capable of speaking these same languages, and now we are better equipped to listen—or in this case, watch.

Stay beautiful & keep laughing!


Want to explore more of what brings us together?

Jump over to our Culture category where you will find the food, stories, landscapes, and traditions that celebrate who we are!

Culture on EWC

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  1. “The Expression of Emotions.” Darwin Correspondence Project. University of Cambridge, 03 July 2015. Web. 12 July 2018. <https://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/commentary/human-nature/expression-emotions>.
  2. “Are There Universal Expressions of Emotion? – Sophie Zadeh.” YouTube. TED-Ed, 03 July 2018. Web. 12 July 2018. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-hr58Yu0yDs>.

Liesl Ulrich-Verderber

CEO of Ever Widening Circles, Founder of EWCed

Since 2015, Liesl has been a writer, editor, and is now the CEO at Ever Widening Circles. She is a life-long camera-toting traveler, a global story seeker, and an aspiring—but more often root-tripping—outdoor enthusiast. She can be found on Instagram @Liesl.UV