The role of structural facial asymmetry in asymmetry of peak facial expressions

Karen L. Schmidt, Yanxi Liu, Jeffrey F. Cohn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Asymmetric facial expression is generally attributed to asymmetry in movement, but structural asymmetry in the face may also affect asymmetry of expression. Asymmetry in posed expressions was measured using image-based approaches in digitised sequences of facial expression in 55 individuals, N = 16 men, N = 39 women. Structural asymmetry (at neutral expression) was higher in men than women and accounted for .54, .62, and .66 of the variance in asymmetry at peak expression for joy, anger, and disgust expressions, respectively. Movement asymmetry (measured by change in pixel values over time) was found, but was unrelated to peak asymmetry in joy or anger expressions over the whole face and in facial subregions relevant to the expression. Movement asymmetry was negatively related to peak asymmetry in disgust expressions. Sidedness of movement asymmetry (defined as the ratio of summed movement on the left to movement on the right) was consistent across emotions within individuals. Sidedness was found only for joy expressions, which had significantly more movement on the left. The significant role of structural asymmetry in asymmetry of emotion expression and the exploration of facial expression asymmetry have important implications for evolutionary interpretations of facial signalling and facial expressions in general.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)540-561
Number of pages22
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2006

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • General Psychology


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