Psychology of faces

With ‘the psychology of faces’ being what I have to show in an editorial illustration, I think it is important that I conduct some research into psychology. Hopefully it will allow me to develop on the initial ideas I had, which can be seen here and to ensure they are meaningful to the brief.

So what is psychology and what does it mean? To answer this I sourced a definition from a dictionary:

  1. The scientific study of the human mind and its functions, especially those affecting behaviour in a given context.
  2. The mental characteristics or attitude of a person or group: the psychology of child-killers.”

So now we have an understanding of what psychology is, without misconceptions that can occur during projects. It focuses on the brain, and does not mention anywhere about faces. This is confusing to me, so I believe the best option here for an article that New Scientist would have is to look into how the face can be studied in a manner that aids the scientific study of the human mind, so basically, the clues that the face gives away that allows someone to have an understanding of that person’s mind. I would say facial emotions are these clues.

So what helps someone to work out the psychology of a mind from a face? Here are my thoughts mixed with some thoughts (in italics) from


  • The eyes are frequently referred to as the “windows to the soul” and can carry emotions such as when someone is upset, bored or happy.
  • Many individual factors of the eyes can be held accountable for this; the gaze, the blinking and the pupil size.


  • Like the eyes, emotions can be carried through the mouth such as a smile, or a smirk.
  • Many individual characteristics of the mouth can be held accountable for this; the way their lips are turned, are they pursed, are they lip biting or covering their mouth?

So these are the two major factors where the psychology of someone’s face can be judged. So obviously ideas can be spun off from this, as I have already looked into in my initial ideas. But this appears to be a very narrow avenue, and often narrow design avenues means I am missing something, especially as my original thoughts were how open this project was.

So I had a think and decided, there was a whole world to be explored in regards to emotions, and perhaps disguising those emotions. That then brought me to a question of what makes a face a face? Are they intrinsically stored within the human mind or a ‘symbol’ that is culturally learned over time? Well as I’ve asked a lot of questions over the last paragraph I’ll answer the last question first.

Faces, instinct or learnt?

Our group has discussed how simple can a face be in the first photography session we did, and the answer seemed to be two dots (eyes) and a line (mouth), backing up the previous research I did. Emoticons such as :), :D, :(, 😐 being simplified faces are one stage up from this. (I have to say I am a big fan of the emoticons seen on WordPress, it was difficult not to turn this whole project so far into that 😛) Our group then discussed and agreed that faces are intrinsically linked into the human psychology from birth on the evidence of the tutor saying how she had watched a video that showed this in practice.

Well before I could search for it, someone then sent me a YouTube video of Still Face Experiment: Dr Edward Tronick. It was very interesting, and surprising to see just how strongly emotions can be read accurately, at such an early stage in the life of someone and I think that also adds a crucial point that the expression of your face can also have an impact on someone’s else face. If you see someone crying or laughing, what does that do? Does the emotion of your reaction to seeing their face change your face? The video of the experiment I have linked to above certainly shows this to be the case in many scenarios.

Disguising emotions:

So now I have looked into the power of emotion, could you disguise this? Could this form the basis of an idea for this project? Well, I think it can, and people do successfully manage not to show their emotions, with varying degrees of success. I’m sure many people will agree with me in that sometimes, it would be so helpful not to show any emotion, or the ‘correct’ emotions for the scenario. The most obvious thing I can think to cover this is a mask, which instantly made me think of theatre masks in a design sense. However, then people know you have something to hide. I think it comes down to the person you are, as to whether you are extrovert or introvert with your emotions.

How else can emotions be shown, aside from the face and body?

Well, as I explored within one of my ideas, I think that colour is a very helpful resource here that people, such as designers choose to show and control emotions. Two helpful articles you can read here and here talked about what colours mean, and below I will pick out the key points and provide a range of words to summarise each colour. However, it is important to mention opinions can vary with colour, down to specific shades of colour and therefore they may be conflict or disagreements.

  • Red: Love. Warmth. Comfort. Intensity. Excitement. Anger. Heat. Energy. Speed.
  • Orange: Excitement. Enthusiasm. Reliability. Warmth. Vitality. Playfulness.
  • Yellow: Cheery. Warm. Happiness. Attention. Optimism. Creativity. Frustration.
  • Green: Nature. Tranquility. Luck (good or bad). Health, Envy. Fertility. Calming.
  • Blue: Calmness. Serenity. Orderly. Secure. Sadness. Loyalty. Reliability.
  • Purple: Spirituality. Intelligence. Wealth. Royalty. Wisdom. Creative. Sophisticated.
  • Pink: Energy. Fun. Excitement. Love. Romance. Calming.
  • Brown: Age. Stability. Relaxation. Isolation. Security. Natural. Durability. Class.
  • White: Purity. Innocence. Simplicity. Minimal. Cleanliness. Cold. Bland. Sterile.
  • Black: Power, especially evil power. Unhappiness. Formality. Sophistication.

Psychological disorders that affect emotions:

It is worth noting there are many different brain ‘disorders’ that people can have that either masks emotion or negatively effects it. Autism is an example of a ‘disorder’ making it difficult for people who have it to show their emotions as well as ‘normal’ people, although this ‘disorder’ crucially forms a wide spectrum, which affects people differently. Another disorder that I learnt about from someone in the Graphics group during the interim crit (I’ll be writing a post about the interim crit shortly) while I was in the process of writing this post is Body Dysmorphic Disorder, where sufferers have a preoccupation with perceived or slight defects in their appearance, which leaves their emotions being wholly negative towards themselves and therefore their life can be severely damaged.

What have I learnt from this research?

Well, this insight into psychology has given me a couple of extra ideas which I will explore next, most likely when I write up about the crit. But mainly it has helped confirm in my mind the importance of psychology and how it can be made visible through emotions.