7 Quick Takes – Are Faces Innate? (The Psychology Edition)

Another busy week, though I’m hoping it will calm down a little. What have I been up to? Uni work, mostly. Read on for Psychology in bulk. Catch up with Quick Takes at This Ain’t the Lyceum.

seven quick takes friday 2


If you’re interested in Psychology, I did a seminar presentation today for my Science of Emotion module, entitled Are Faces and the Emotions They Convey Innate? My conclusion, for simplicity and time-saving, was that we might have a critical period in the development of emotion processing neurology, in which the neural pathways develop—which can be influenced to be ‘abnormal’ by external factors like more frequent exposure to certain facial expression stimuli in the environment.

However, this topic is actually one in constant debate. Since, if you’d consider it, Darwin’s lesser-well-known (compared to On the Origin of Species) The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, psychologists have been interested in whether facial expressions of emotion are innate or learned. Or indeed a combination of the two.


A snippet of my notes to illustrate how difficult it is in science to give a straight conclusion. After all, there are so many possible confounding variables and human differences that one cannot possibly generalise.



Reeb-Sutherland et al’s paper came to the conclusion that facial expressions of emotions are not innate, as their results showed differences in preference for seeing fearful faces in a continuum of Anger—Fear (where preference is seeing a fearful face sooner than the average) between Behaviourally-Inhibited adolescents with a history of anxiety. This means, more or less, that something about their past exposure and tendency for anxiety has ‘rewired’ their brain to be more aware of threat.


Screen Shot 2014-04-02 at 3.40.08 PMOn the other hand, studies like that of Gendron et al looked at how ‘basic’ emotions (a la Paul Ekman, 1984*) are prevalent across cultures, even in Patagonian tribes, who will not have had as much exposure to media and the stress Western culture can evoke (and therefore they may be less prone to anxiety and worry emotions). One might argue from results like these that facial expressions of emotion, at their simplest, are innately ‘tailored’ in the human mind already.

*The article I’ve linked is only a preliminary in discussion of Darwinian tradition of facial processing. It does, however, include reference to some important recent articles and papers in the research. If you’re interested in facial expression of emotion, I’d recommend Google scholar-ing Paul Ekman’s original work and its updates.


Of course, there are many other ways to express one’s emotion, especially for humans. Next week, for instance, we’ll be looking at expressing emotion through the body. However, you can see how much material and hypotheses there are to go on from just one three-hour seminar…

Yup, I have three-hour seminars this year. They don’t call Reading University research-intensive for nothing!


Amongst all this Psychology, as much as I love it, I hurry about and do have those stressful moments. I know I talk about the felt intangibility of God a lot, but it’s something that keeps me going; sometimes, when I’m close to giving up on a piece of work, I close my eyes and give consideration to what He might be saying by putting me in this particular place and position. Trust is a difficult thing, and it takes practise like that to carry on. Living in the Chapter House community group has especially helped this.


This issue is that I’ve still got loads to catch up on – including several reblogging that I was unable to do during the working week – and do before/for this evening, so I’ll leave it at that for today.

How has your week been? Been up to anything unusual? Tell me, what do you think of the question of expression innateness?

A Thought for Today: Bunny Bennett’s It Gets Better Video

I may be a cis-gender heterosexual and mostly-heteroromantic woman – and Pride month isn’t particularly a well-announced thing here in England, so I didn’t really know about it – but I wanted to share with you this video by steampunk performer Bunny Bennett.

Yes, it’s an old video, but the band Steam Powered Giraffe has really inspired me these last couple of months, in imagination – and self-confidence.

“Maybe you’re just tired of all the hate in the world.”

One thing I’ve learnt in my year at uni, something much more valuable than Heidegger’s continental approach to considering the world’s existence or how the brain acts on sensation signals, is that the world and its opinions are not narrow. They are not the product of a Catholic girls school (take from that what you will; I’ll only say that the opinions of your school-friends will always be unrealistically petty). Life is not the sole opinion of your parents; you can have your own views, beliefs, loves and that’s more than simply acceptable.

Laws are there for a reason – to keep us safe – and, although political correctness has veered off the helpful track, opinions are not the same as laws. You can feel one thing and act another, and, yes, that doesn’t have to necessarily be a bad thing. Hate and love are not spectra, and, yes, it is possible to feel hate but to show love and turn the other cheek.

The Steampunk community rules!

As Bunny says in the video’s description: “This video isn’t just for the LGBT community. It’s for everyone and anyone that needs it. We all go through tough times. We all have seemingly impossible odds against us.”

I have a friend who lives down the corridor from me, a beautiful, charismatic girl who happens to dress like a 40s pin-up because that’s the kind of fashion she loves. She gets flack, but we all get flack. Everyday. It’s the life we live. Yet, that’s no reason for my friend to stop being pretty with her looks or for me to deny that I do enjoy NeoVictorian and modern NeoVictorian (wearing non-Victorian shirts and trousers but jazzing them up with steam accessories like belts and bows and frills. I love frills.).

And your start is to start loving yourself, and forgiving yourself. We all do silly things and feel arguably silly feels, but beating yourself up for how you feel does no one any good.

I know – this post is comprised of nothing novel. I just wanted to share this beautiful video from a beautiful amazing woman.

Well, life’s too short, so share the love. You know it is. You know it is. Don’t do things that you shouldn’t do, because that’s bad. 😉


The Art of letting go

We all know that letting go is a painful, cold-hearted kick to the gut. Here, Loretta Andrews considers letting go and God. The first few paragraphs especially rung true for me.

Loretta Andrews

Is God a nice God?

Is ‘letting go’ a brave act of surrender or merely giving up?

They say the hardest choice you’ll ever face is whether to walk away or try harder, but what if someone else gives up before you.  Do you let them walk away? Or do we grab hold of their leg shamelessly losing all self-respect and let them drag us a long as they try to get away from us? Do we even have a choice?

I’m pretty sure there is an art to letting go.  I’m pretty sure I don’t have it! In fact I’m certain I’m absolutely rubbish at it!  It says a lot about me I guess.  I am fiercely loyal.  Ask any of my friends, they know full well and from experience, you mess with one of them I’d personally rip the face of the perpetrator if they wanted me to…

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More Creative Quotes

Another ‘creative’ quote from my manuscript, this time from Aidelle’s side of the separation. Of regrets and chilling thoughts of being away from him.

(It’s larger – and the picture was, sadly, more cumbersome than my previous, horizontal photos – therefore, I have to say, the quote carries less elegance than the other, but I still thinks this brings a certain bundle of ‘feels’ when I read it. I highlighted some of the phrases that have stayed with me throughout writing.)


Phillip Laments

Because Phillip is very poetic in the midnights of our sorrows.

A quote from my manuscript. I thought I’d go fancy and edit one of my photos to include it. Thanks to my friends from the Quidditch team for their posing.



How is it possible to feel so empty without one singular person?

This isn’t psychology; there is nothing – not chemistry, biology, no feature-less science – in explaining the gaps of the soul; when life is lost – or loss – this way, the only remainder is tears, and the only explanation heartache.

Music has fallen beyond conciliation. Look at me, in the darkness moonlight hides: I bottle humiliation and sell it to its highest bidder. My auxiliary charms are forced behind a scarlet smokescreen of stagelights, Super Trooper bulbs.

But that was the majesty of a single eye – a pair can search, and they can find the secrets, the inner things, better. Now a thousand eyeballs float above mine with no grounding, and they scour hope and punish love – though that is not a new alienation. I was always a five-footed monster with rat-like hair and buck-teeth.

I thought I was. The change is hard to swallow, soup and broken glass. Or a book I’ve not read for time.

Another one said as well: “Ship to shore – do you read me anymore?” Send me indeed a beacon to bring me back home, to a world I once knew, not marred by my own hatred of my own kind. I have forgotten why I first fled my own kind, of blackguards and ignorant frantics. But now I fritter my hours and procrastinate with those I once threw my hand from.

Oh, how can the world be so much duller than it was a mere three years previously?

And how can skin be so cold when the mind has fire? Or, are those two more than compatible – so much so that humanity forgets their allegiances and their serenity? Impossibly – the days tumble over each other, with no other thoughts than their typical passage of time. But time, with its bumps and eddies – and its repeated phrases – doesn’t play fair, just as she never cast her hands equally.

Forgive me, for I have sinned again, beyond Your very word, and yours, too. I swore myself to the chastity of keeping my anger within his shell. But these strangers, they rile me, especially in such a proximity, and with such titles; none have ever bore or supplanted the real emotions sparkling through the ether.

If one is to believe of a second layer between the gaps of Heaven and Earth. But these ideas are not incompatible, are they? Ghosts and Saints. And Lords. He will rise, and we will be judged at an equal pace. Your grace and me – and them. At an equal.

I know I am a fool, a dumb fool. They do not need to spell out such words.

But I am worse to wish their pain.

Revenge was such a fiendish, black idea, but she has haunted me since my youth, and I shall never be rid of her talons in my side and in shaping my chest, and in my very eyes when goodness looks with hope. Maybe my soul really has charred.

I sometimes wonder if this, far from being built on false hopes, is itself false hopes, and a false entity to swarm the psyche. I am a stereotype and I have a number of my conformity: your eyes are deceptive pools, withholding life, yet keeping the oceans turning – one day more. My videos of Eric Clapton have curled at their edges like the pictures within my solely photographic mind, and my wonderful tonight has a stretch of melancholic black intruding its moonlit heart.

WTCB September: A Thousand Essays on Love

Roses are one possible symbol of many types of love.
Roses are one possible symbol of many types of love.

I write about love a lot. (Just see the tag!) Of course, passion – in this case, in the sense of artistic fervour – has led me to the psychology and philosophy of emotions and natural attachment, but I harbour more than simply academic feelings about the topic of love.

Have you ever fallen in love? Have you ever understood how the world lights up beyond the colours of our human sight? Have you ever witnessed the aura behind the wilderness, the colour you know is there, but you will never observe with your biochemistry, for it journeys from the soul and by-passes the physical?

My characters have, though each in their different ways. In a way, When the Clock Broke, is my thesis on love’s affecting personality and its magic across the multiple universes; in fact, none of my other novels have ever gripped me as academically, as perfectionistically, as this one has. Even the sequel, granted only a first draft, lacks the symbolic sparkle this novel has. Then again, it also lacks the same main characters.

Of course, as a Beta once commented, familial storge is a theme well used by When the Clock Broke. But, as with most novels, I reckon, a helping of each of the four Greek loves shows:

Agape – sacrifice, as far as that of Jesus’ body for the world. In many great novels, a hero or a secondary character sacrifices at least a part of themselves for the sake of defeating the antagonist. For Peter, sacrifice is his choice – his way of helping or abandoning poor Phillip.
Philos – friendship. Every great novel has a great friendship, even before love; every good love also contains friendship.
Storge – familial love: not as important for so many novels, but, in mine, family is what keeps and destroys my characters. It is an aim, just as much as the next love is.
Eros – sexual and romantic love. The final aim of the MCs, their final victory or loss hangs on whether eros is renewed or lost.

YellowRose_AlexBToo, the variety of the interpretations of love are reflected through my characters. Although I never set out to deliberately portray my opinions through my characters, sometimes these things slip through… With love, though, the different opinions are just that: different opinions.

Dr. Costello is concentrated on the traditional, arranged marriage – surely, all his sons should follow his regime? Right-wing and structured, his opinion reflects his personality. If he had believed in astrology (I’ve been delving in and out more lately), he may well have been born under a fixed sign – or an Earth-sign, a Taurus like me [edit: he’s a Capricorn, of that I’m pretty sure]. Anyway, I digress. I might write a different post on that matter.

Eldest son Stuart does follow this idea; with his arranged marriage, he only fulfils his father’s theorem, as one show of how some characters are more likely to follow their society than their heart. He bore one instance of cold feet, but, apart from that, Stuart is the one who abandons his own opinions.

In fact, his wife Lucy’s absence from the pivotal Costello dinner scene symbolises the kind of absence love has from their idea of marriage – and from their appearance in society after their union. I cannot truly say if their arranged marriage was without love. But what is the true reason for their lack of an heir?

Phillip’s very expressive opinion of love, the main theme of the novel – that love survives everything when it is pure and nourished – is not so influenced by the outside world, but is also not so self-focused, regardless of whether those are the same (though, for him, they are not). His position is that of compatibilist, where our acts are something for which we need to take full responsibility; when we love, we are setting off a chain-reaction throughout not only our lives, but also those of our families.

In his view, we see a conservative attack on the age-old system; unlike his youngest brother (see below), Phillip will do what is necessary not to offend his father or brother, but, yes, he is still the champion of living for one’s self and for the love onto which one holds, instead of a predisposed choice of ‘mate’ alone.

Phillip follows his head and his heart, the rules and the heady rush amoris.

Each Costello brother has his own view of love, as do the female characters in the novel, but, though I could, I see no point in rattling them all off. A thousand essays is a thousand – after all, you will experience love a different way to me, and I hope that the book will appeal to everyone’s reflections of love – and not necessarily through the variety. A singular word about love can resonate with a person’s soul more than any collection.

Finally: Peter is the left-wing view, the true ‘upstart’ or lacerator of the Costello name in my novel: should we have complete freedom when choosing a partner and living through our beating hearts? This shows in Peter’s youth, where he follows his heart, as opposed to any of his head telling him the best course of action, including paying attention to the needs of his family and lineage, too.

In a way, it’s like the libertarianism-determinism debate. I have yet to really vote on my opinion of whether humans have autonomy on love itself like we may have more of a choice about our partners. Love is amazing – but not everyone believes from the same heart.

Does your own opinion (not only of love) affect the way you write? Or does that passion only enhance it?

More posts on love:

On the Morality of Love (Nietzsche)

Phillip’s monologue about love (September extract)

Forgiven Is a Wonderful Thing