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In Depth: Superficial Muscles

The muscles of the face give it general form and contour, help you outwardly express your feelings, and enable you to chew your food.

In addition to large muscles, areas of the face such as the cheeks have many smaller muscles that work when you do simple things such as smile, laugh, or cry.

The large muscles of the face include:

  • Orbicularis oculi: These muscles around your eye help you bat your eyes.
  • Orbicularis oris: This muscle encircles your mouth and enables your lips to pucker for a kiss.
  • Temporalis: This mouth muscle is one that is used for chewing.
  • Masseter: This muscle closes the mouth by raising your jawbone.
  • Risorius: This muscle pulls the corners of the mouth backwards, which is why it is sometimes called the “fake smile” muscle.
  • Nasalis: This muscle helps you scrunch your nose by compressing the bridge of the nose and pulling the nostrils open.
  • Mentalis: This muscle causes wrinkles in your chin.
  • Sternocleidomastoid: This large neck muscle helps rotate the head upward and side to side.

The muscles of the face overlap and crisscross over each other, creating a mask of muscle over the skull and jawbone. They attach to various parts of the skull and other muscles, allowing for a vast array of different facial expressions.

Charles Darwin, the father of Evolutionary Theory, said that people (and animals) of any age, race, or gender all express the same state of mind with the same movements. Studies since Darwin’s time have backed up this theory.

Research in the 1960s by Paul Ekman showed that there are six universal facial expressions. These include fear, anger, disgust, joy, surprise, and sadness. However, other emotions are open to cultural and personal interpretations.

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