Joyful or sad smiles expressed after a competition are the same for blind and sighted athletes, according to a new study, showing that certain facial expressions are innate and managed differently depending on the social situation [Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 96(1): 1-10].

“Spontaneously produced facial expressions of emotion of both congenitally and non-congenitally blind individuals are the same as for sighted individuals in the same emotionally evocative situations.” said study author David Matsumoto, PhD, of San Francisco State University. “We also see that blind athletes manage their expressions in social situations the same way sighted athletes do.”

Our emotional expressions probably come from our genes, and all of us, regardless of gender or culture, are capable of this behavior, he explained. “Blind athletes, and especially those born blind, could not have possibly learned to produce those exact facial configurations from modeling the expressions of others.”

The study compared the expressions of 76 blind judo athletes, some of whom were born blind, with the expressions of 84 sighted judo athletes. The blind athletes competed in the 2004 Paralympic Games. The sighted athletes competed in the 2004 Olympic Games. The matches analyzed consisted of gold- and bronze-medal matches. (Winners of the gold-medal matches got gold and losers got silver. Winners of the bronze-medal matches got bronze and losers got no medal. Two bronze medals are awarded in judo, so the losers of these matches received fifth place.) Both the Olympic and Paralympic athletes represented more than 23 countries.

To track the athletes’ reactions at certain points after the competition in the Paralympic games, the researchers photographed their facial expressions immediately after their match, during the medal ceremonies, and on the podium with other medalists. Each expression was coded according to the displayed emotion. Expressions from the sighted Olympic athletes were taken from another study done the same way by the same authors.

From the photos, the researchers found that the blind athletes produced the same facial expressions involving anger, contempt, disgust, sadness, surprise and multiple types of smiles as the sighted athletes.

More here.