Seventeen shades of happiness

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Washington: Happiness can be conveyed using 17 different facial configurations, according to scientists who found that out of over 16,000 expressions only 35 can be recognised across cultures around the world. While human beings can configure their faces in thousands and thousands of ways to convey emotion — from anger to sadness to riotous joy — the number of ways our faces can convey different emotions varies.

Disgust, for example, needs just one facial expression to get its point across throughout the world. Happiness, on the other hand, has 17 — a testament to the many varied forms of cheer, delight and contentedness, researchers said.“This was delightful to discover, because it speaks to the complex nature of happiness,” said Aleix Martinez, a professor at The Ohio State University in the US. The differences in how our faces convey happiness can be as simple as the size of our smiles or the crinkles near our eyes, the study found.

The study, published in the journal IEEE Transactions on Affective Computing, also found that humans use three expressions to convey fear, four to convey surprise, and five each to convey sadness and anger. The findings build on Martinez’s previous work on facial expressions, which found that people can correctly identify other people’s emotions about 75 per cent of the time based solely on subtle shifts in how blood flow colours a person’s nose, eyebrows, cheeks or chin. Based on computer algorithms, they found that the human face is capable of configuring itself in 16,384 unique ways, combining different muscles in different ways.

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