Facial Expression Projects

A novel direction of the group is the imaging of facial expression in 3d. We’re broadly interested in two questions: how does the inheritance of facial features emerge as babies grow, and how variable are people in their facial expressivity? Our approach is very simple – we take a large number of 3d images of human faces and use a bundle of statistical approaches to quantify the variation within and among people. At some point we will connect this information to genomic data and the other projects as well, with an interest in asking how early growth might impact susceptibility to chronic disease later in life.

The ABC study is focused on babies. We’re setting up an Atlanta Baby Cohort with the aim of tracing the development of facial features every few months in the first couple of years of life, and then comparing these images with their parents’ images. Amazingly, even though Charles Darwin recognized that the expression of emotions in man has its origins in early childhood, there has been very little research into how expressivity emerges, and how it relates to facial morphology. Even more basically, while everyone thinks they can see bits of mum and dad in newborn babies, this aspect of heritability has never been quantified. We are also working closely with a leading expert on perinatal growth, Michelle Lampl in the Dept of Anthropology at Emory, on these objectives.

The GT-UGFEP study is looking at facial expression profiling among Georgia Tech undergraduates. In this case, the basic questions are: how variable are people in their facial expressivity, does this variability mirror their emotional expressivity or other aspects of personality, and how does it impact genetic studies of differences in facial morphology between ethnicities? We’re starting with the first question, establishing the parameters of facial variability: who ‘speaks’ more with their eyes, mouth, or other features? Our collaborator at Morehouse College, Mark Shriver, is more broadly sampling variation among ‘neutral faces’ and how we react to the that variation. In time we intend to examine the expression of the basic emotions (happiness, sadness, fear, surprise, disgust and anger) and examine how these relate to depression and other behavioral disorders.