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Facial Ambiguity

Text and Image: Miranda Tate



Emotions can be hard to express, and even harder to interpret. All the ways in which our faces contort and twist means there are innumerable avenues of analysis open to us. Furrowed eyebrows, a mouth pressed tight, or a scrunched nose, these are some of the signals we attempt to decode. All analysis is open and confined to the context we find ourselves in; how well do you know the person, how is our inner state projected onto them, and are we guessing their tone and motivations correctly?


In quick passing, you spy one side of an interaction, one face with an agape mouth, and your brain concludes that you witnessed an argument, someone yelling when perhaps they were only yawning. Your brain has a lot of stimuli to process, and in turn has created a series of shortcuts, heuristics, in order to decode the world as fast as possible. Because of this, detail and subtext are lost. To read between the lines we must employ a great deal of active energy. A lover is fighting back words, and while their face betrays frustration, you’re not quite sure if it’s tinted with anger or passion. Are you about to be broken up with or do you have a love confession on your hands?


Use the headshots above & try these quick games:

Guess Who!: Choose one headshot and share the link with a friend. Now, describe the one you chose by only using descriptors based on their emotional expression, and have your friend guess which one you chose. Now switch and have your friend choose and you guess.

Choose two headshots at random: Imagine a conversation between them based on their facial expressions. What kind of topic, what type of approach, and what chemistry would lead to these expressions?



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