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Show-And-Tell: Show Us Your Angry Face

Angry young woman frowning.

You know the look. After all, the Angry Face, according to a recent study, is pretty much the same all over the world.

"The expression is cross-culturally universal," the study's lead author, Aaron Sell, a lecturer at the School of Criminology at Griffith University in Australia, said in a report. Even congenitally blind children make a classic Angry Face — with furrowed brow and tightened lips — when they are mad, despite never having seen another.

Looking cross, Aaron said, is a power play intended to intimidate "by making the angry individual appear more capable of delivering harm if not appeased."

We have all been on the receiving end of an Angry Face — from a peeved parent, a critical coach, a crabby customer. Using seven distinct muscle groups, the look sends an unspoken signal that something is wrong and needs to be fixed — before a Non-Angry Face will reappear.

Maybe call it: behavior mollification.

Facial Weaponry

So does an Angry Face actually work to stave off a perceived threat?

Coach Pete Carroll of the Seattle Seahawks reacts to a referee in 2010.
Stephen Dunn / Getty Images
Coach Pete Carroll of the Seattle Seahawks reacts to a referee in 2010.

"It depends," says Susan Fitzell, a New Hampshire-based .

If you are under real attack, she says, "statistics support fighting back. In that case, the Angry Face — which we instinctively use to intimidate — is quite appropriate and would be combined with the body language and a roaring voice to create fear in the opponent or the attacker."

On the other hand, Susan says, "the majority of the time, we need to manage our anger to function at our best in society."

What really matters is how we react to something that triggers anger within us, Susan says. "If we make a choice to respond calmly with language that presents as personal strength — yet does not escalate the conflict — we can move that anger into empowerment. If we're empowered, and feel confident in dealing with others, we don't need the Angry Face."

The real danger, of course, can come from people who do not exhibit any signs of anger at all. The Placid Face can be the scariest of all.

So what does your Angry Face look like? Send your angry selfie to protojournalist@npr.org and don't be mad if we post the most menacing.

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The Protojournalist:Experimental storytelling for the LURVers — Listeners, Users, Readers, Viewers — of NPR.@NPRtpj

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.