Edinformatics - Educational Resource

Assymetric Facial Expressions as a Creative Science Project

Here is an excellent science project that has unlimited potential, and can be a real winner in a science fair. Let your creativity run with this one! All you need is a computer with software that can work with image files (e.g., photoshop) and a digital camera. You can also do this project using a film camera and have access to a darkroom.

About Asymmetric Facial Expressions
You may not notice it at first, but people have asymmetric facial expressions. That means their expressions on the left and right side of the face are not the same. At peak facial expression, the face is often asymmetric, and the left side of the face in particular seems to be most expressive. The effect appears even more pronounced in young and adolescent adult.

Take a look at the three images below. Only the top is an actual photo! The other two were generated using data from the first image, to create an image of two-right faces, and two left faces.

Photo of President Bush taken on September 11,2001 in Sarasota Florida shortly after the attack of the World Trade Center.
This image was created using two right face images. The image was created using Photoshop Elements 2.0. by cropping the right side of the face. Two images were created after which one was flipped horizontally. The two images are joined side-by-side. The end result is a photo that only shows the right side facial expression.

This image was created from two left face images. Image created with Photoshop Elements 2.0. 

The left side image clearly shows a sign of grief that is not shown in the image that contains two right faces.

Where can you go from here?

If you have a digital camera ask your friends to pose using different expressions. Make sure you catch your subject straight on for best results.

Questions to consider:

Is there a difference in asymmetry between the sexes?

Is there an age dependent factor?

Are there any cultural differences?

Are the effects the same for a real smile as opposed to someone who is asked to smile? See if you can catch real expressions, perhaps taking your pictures while your subject is watching television or involved in a social situation.

Does the effect go past humans? Do dogs or cats demonstrate asymmetric facial expression?

Is there a left -right handed effect? Or, does the left side always show a more pronounced effect.

Find out what the reason is behind the effect!

There is a wealth of scientific literature about asymmetry in facial expressions but you will probably have to ask your teacher to explain some of the more difficult concepts.