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In Depth: Superficial Muscles

The muscles of the face give it general shape, help you outwardly express your feelings, and allow you to chew your food.

In addition to large muscles, areas of the face such as the cheeks have many smaller muscles that work when you do simple things such as smile, laugh, or cry.

The large muscles of the face include:

  • Orbicularis oculi: These muscles around your eye help you bat your eyes at that certain someone.
  • Orbicularis oris: This muscle encircles your mouth and makes your lips pucker for a kiss.
  • Temporalis: This mouth muscle is one that is used while you chew.
  • Masseter: This muscle closes the mouth by raising your jawbone.
  • Risorius: This muscle pulls the corners of the mouth backwards, which gives it the name the “fake smile” muscle.
  • Nasalis: This muscle helps you scrunch your nose when you dislike something by compressing the bridge of the nose and pulling the nostrils open.
  • Mentalis: This muscle causes wrinkles in your chin.
  • Sternocleidomastoid: This large neck muscle helps rotate the head upward and side to side.

The muscles of the face overlap and crisscross over each other, creating a mask of muscle over the skull and jawbone. They attached to various parts of the skull and other muscles allowing for a vast array of different facial expressions.

As we age, the repeated movements of the facial muscles can form wrinkles in the skin. This is why people who are rather gloomy seem to always wear a frown and happier people get “laugh lines” around their eyes.

Charles Darwin, the father of evolution, said that people (and animals) of any age, race, or gender all express the same state of mind with the same movements. Studies since Darwin’s time have backed up this theory.

Research in the 1960s by Paul Ekman showed that there are some universal facial expressions. These include fear, anger, disgust, joy, and surprise. Other emotions are open to cultural and personal interpretation.

Basically, if you startle people anywhere across the globe or make them deliriously happy, they will all have the same basic facial expression. However, someone who is frustrated in the United States may not convey the same facial expression as someone in China. 

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