Do different races or cultures express facial expressions more or less strongly?

I’m not asking if a smile is a smile across cultures, but whether some cultures or races smile more broadly (or perhaps not at all) when they’re happy. And if there is such a difference between cultures, is it ever due to racial differences in facial structure?

For example:

  • When exposed to the same stimulus, will a second-generation Korean American display any more or less facial movement compared to a Korean?

  • Or, perhaps in an orphanage, do racially different children raised in similar environments facially react to stimuli differently?

I’d try looking for this on my own, but I don’t really know what terms to search for.

I don’t know if it’s racial or just cultural. I read somewhere that black people in the US look down as a way of acknowledging authority (which is baffling to white teachers, who want eye contact.) When they laugh, they sometimes cover their mouths and do a bit of a dance with their feet. In my naive white-boy way, I noticed it’s true.

In the movie Gran Torino, one of the Hmong characters explains to Walt that Hmongs smile when they are nervous or embarrassed.

I don’t pretend to be an anthropologist, and all that could be mistaken.

It’s my understanding that black Americans express themselves emotionally more than whites on average (or to look at it the other way, whites act more repressed). And while its a bit tangential, I also recall an interesting study that showed it’s possible to guess whether a photographer is black or white with significantly better than average odds by the emotional content of their photos; whites tend to photograph people in more rigid and emotionless poses than black photographers do.

Interesting question. It is generally agreed that there are six expressions that are culturally universal - happy, sad, angry, fearful, surprised, disgusted. The rest may be different between culture A and B. Smiling while embarrassed doesn’t contradict this as it’s an emotional cover. Also I bet they have less eye action than “true smiles.”

Link to a paper pdf. TL;DR answer: yes, sort of, but not completely. I guess this is about interpreting expressions, not making them though.

I have not heard of any differences due to physiognomy. I find that you can tell the difference between immigrants and their US born kids just by looking at them in many cases, but I can’t say what features I’d pick up on.

Racial differences? No. Cultural differences? Yes.

If you want scholarly articles on expressions, try keywords like, ethnography facial expression emotion.

When it comes to language, gestures, and body language, it’s mostly behavioral, very little is innate. The universal expressions like crying, smiling, anger, etc. are all hard-wired, but how and when those are displayed and how much they are expressed are greatly shaped by the cultural environment.

You can probably spot a German tourist among a crowd of Minnesotans or Wisconsinites. Body language is the giveaway. How far away they stand; how they move through space, especially in relation to other people; where they look and for how long; eye contact; posture, these things are usually enough to make the distinction if you’re paying attention. And that’s not even going into the finer level of facial expressions.

Different cultures sometimes have very different body language and gestures, even though there’s also considerable overlap. For instance, Filipinos point with their lips, and as Cecil pointed out a while back, gestures for yes and no are pretty variable.

I’ve lived in Japan for over a decade and when I go back to the US to visit I have to readjust to hundreds of little differences in the way people act and react to each other. People are more similar than they are different, but those subtle differences add up to a constant feeling of oddness until you get used to them.

ETA: The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift felt weird as hell because, as far as I can tell, there’s not one Japanese from Japan in the movie. They’re at best nisei, but most of them are Korean-American or Chinese-American. All kinds of non-verbal cues give it away, and the Japanese dialog makes it pretty clear that a lot of them aren’t fully fluent speakers.