Facial Expressions: The Universal Language

When we think of muscles, we generally think of the big ones in our arms and legs — under our voluntary control — which are attached at both ends to our skeleton and allow body movement. But the skin on our face has over 40 voluntary muscles that, among other things, allow us to move our skin around to create an amazing variety of facial expressions. These facial muscles originate in the skull bones but attach to the skin of the scalp, ears, neck and face. All facial muscles are controlled by the facial nerves that emerge from the skull behind our ears and split into five branches on each side of our head.

Are They Necessary?

Facial muscles wrinkle our nose, furrow our brow, wiggle our ears, make us grimace, and even put a dimple in our chin. We might well wonder whether these muscles are really necessary. Some are indeed very important to our life, while others might fall into the category of nice but not necessary.

Some facial muscles may fail to function or even develop in some people, while others are universal, such as those around the eyes and mouth, across the forehead, and along the cheeks. While we could manage to live "stone faced" without most facial muscles, two places are vital. The circular muscles around the eyes are essential for closing our eyes (preventing possible blindness), and the circular muscle around the lips is important for suckling, eating, drinking, pronouncing words — and of course, smooching.

Designed to Smile

God specially designed human faces with over 40 voluntary muscles that create a wide range of facial expressions. No animals, including apes and monkeys, can communicate such a wide range and nuance of emotion. By moving different muscles, we can show about 20 expressions, from smiles to anger and surprise.

Smiles are one of our most common expressions. We need at least four sets of muscles to elevate the corners of our mouth and make other subtle changes.

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