Quickly describe the emotions depicted here …..


Need some help?

Line 1: Thinking, Tears of joy, Shush – it’s a secret. Line 2: How awful! Sad and pensive, Happy Line 3: Super happy and hugs, Screaming in fear, Surprised, Oh no! Line 4: Nervous or smiling with gritted teeth, Embarrassed or ashamed, Angry

If you practice making the facial expressions that go along with these emotions and you will become better at recognizing them in other people.

Emoji symbols have taken over words – have you noticed? These universally agreed faces describe emotions much more quickly than writing the words could.
And they are fun!

How do we read faces?

Dr. Elkhonon Goldberg tells us that our “executive intelligence” includes the ability to “penetrate other people’s minds” and we start by looking at the face and the emotion being expressed.

Psychologist Paul Ekman has spent decades researching how we identify emotions through facial expressions and he found seven emotions that are expressed in our faces in fairly universally consistent ways:

  • Surprise
  • Fear
  • Disgust
  • Contempt
  • Anger
  • Sadness
  • Happiness

Tips to help you better read the facial expressions of others.


Not all facial expressions last for long. Those that pass quickly are called micro-expressions and are almost indiscernible to the casual observer. You may sense these micro-expressions if you get a “feeling” about someone.


Eyebrows tell a lot about what a person is feeling.

They can be…

  • Raised and arched (surprise)
  • Lowered and knit together (anger)
  • Inner corners drawn up (sadness)

Watch someone’s eyebrows to get a hint about how that person is feeling.


The only thing more telling than the eyebrows are the eyes themselves. They might be

  • Wide open (surprise)
  • Intensely staring (anger)
  • Have crow’s feet crinkles (happy)

In addition, dilated pupils can indicate fear or romantic interest, while rapid blinking might signal dishonesty or stress.


The final piece of the facial expression puzzle has to do with the mouth. Look for:

  • A dropped jaw (surprise)
  • Open mouth (fear)
  • One side of the mouth raised (hate)
  • Corners raised (happiness)
  • Corners drawn down (sadness)

Other signals to look for are:

  • Lip biting (anxiety)
  • Pursed lips (distaste)
  • Covering the mouth (hiding something)


Here’s a quick brain teaser to workout your frontal lobes: From left to right, top then down, what emotion does each facial expression suggest to you?

Check your interpretation

While there is no absolutely correct answer, consensus among the Sharpbrains team seems to be: Sadness, Disappointment, Surprise, Anger (or neutral), Enjoyment, Disgust. How did you go?

Fun fact: As part of his research, Dr. Ekman learned how to consciously manipulate 43 facial muscles, including many that in most of us are beyond our control and even awareness.

Further research:
At a more-in depth level, Ekman said (1999) we can include: Amusement, contempt, contentment, embarrassment, excitement, guilt, pride, relief, satisfaction, sensory pleasure, or shame.

SOURCE: Ekman, Paul (1999), “Basic Emotions”, in Dalgleish, T; Power, M, Handbook of Cognition and Emotion, Sussex, UK: John Wiley & Sons.