The Universal Expressions

According to work done by Psychologist, Paul Ekman in the 1950s and 1960s, it seems that all humans, regardless of age or culture, universally share seven of the same facial expressions.

These are:

  1. Enjoyment;
  2. Sadness;
  3. Anger;
  4. Disgust;
  5. Surprise;
  6. Fear;
  7. Contempt.

After devoting much of his Life to the study of human facial expressions—living among remote, isolated communities, studying the facial expressions shown by newborns, analysing the expressions of children and adults who were blind from birth (therefore unable to see and mimic the expressions from other persons visually)—Dr. Ekman concluded that these expressions are a biological inheritance. They are innate and not learnt.

This therefore builds on the observations of Charles Darwin in the mid-1800s, which he published in 1872 as ‘The Expressions of the Emotions of Man and Animals’.

Cultural influences do exist, however, as Dr. Ekman’s continued research uncovered. They found that individuals of some societies consciously attempted to suppress the display of some expressions. For instance, many of the persons from Japan which they’d interviewed attempted to hide their expressions of ‘Disgust’ while in the presence of others. There also existed cultural ’emblems’, which they defined as being particular body-language cues native to members of distinct communities.

In 2014 and 2015, Makeup Artists, Kristin Jaggan and Asha Riley, helped to recreate glam versions of these seven universal expressions on Subjects: Dani Duran, Shinelle Medina, Waheeda Muller, Khadija Ponds, and Anastasia Tomkin.

Big thanks to Phierce Plus for lending accessories, to Nigel Huggins for photo-assisting, to Giorgio Gonzales for sourcing, and to Shauna Edghill, Alicia Mohammed, and Adriana Ragoonanan for being willing test subjects.


  • 2019-09-17—Article re-written for easier reading and in preparation for translation into German.
  • 2016-02-07—Photograph of ‘Surprise’, originally portrayed by Anastasia Tomkin, replaced with an updated, and more accurate, photograph featuring Waheeda Muller.