PITTSBURGH--A provocative new study has found that people who respond to stressful situations with angry facial expressions, rather than fearful expressions, are less likely to suffer such ill effects of stress as high blood pressure and high stress hormone secretion. The paper, authored by scholars at Carnegie Mellon University, the University of California, Los Angeles, and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine will be published in the November 1 issue of the journal Biological Psychiatry. The results will be presented October 24 during the 43rd annual New Horizons in Science Briefing in Pittsburgh.
Darwin first proposed that facial expressions of emotion signal biological responses to challenges and opportunities. Over a century later, a number of scientists have taken up Darwin's hypothesis, making the biological significance of facial expression a topic of renewed scientific inquiry. One important, but unexamined, question concerned the biological significance of facial responses to stressful circumstances. Because stress responses are central to survival, the authors of the present study reasoned, stressful situations should be especially likely to reveal coordinated biological reactions and facial communication, in part to warn or warn off others.
"We tested whether facial muscle movements in response to a stressor would reveal changes in the body's two major stress-response systems the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the hypothalamic pituitary adrenocortical (HPA) axis. Analyses of facial expressions revealed that the more fear individuals displayed in response to the stressors, the higher their biological responses to stress. By contrast, the more anger and disgust (indignation) individuals displayed in response to the same stressors, the lower their responses," said Jennifer Lerner, the Estella Loomis McCandless Associate Professor of Psychology and Decision Science at Carnegie Mellon and lead author of the study.
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Contact: Jonathan Potts
Carnegie Mellon University
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