Electric emotions - sparking new findings from Darwin

  • Date

    Mon 4 Sep 23

Electric emotions Seb Korb

Researchers have refined a 150-year-old experiment that uses electricity to spark smiles in a bid to understand expression and perception of emotions.

Scientists at the University of Essex sought inspiration from a technique developed in the 19th century by the French physician Duchenne de Boulogne and made popular by Charles Darwin.

The team led by psychologist Dr Sebastian Korb are revisiting, refining, and developing the experiment to explore how facial expressions affect our perceptions of emotion.

Watch the video below to find out more

They do this by running a painless current to key areas on the face, which then manipulate muscles momentarily into action – allowing to create expressions such as frowning and smiling.

Brain waves are then studied to see how expressions affect how we perceive emotions in others.

The initial findings have shown that when confronted with neutral faces, people perceive them as somewhat happy, if their smiling muscles are activated at the same time.


It is hoped the research into Facial Neuromuscular Electrical Stimulation will help us better understand how conditions like autism affect the perception of emotions.

Dr Korb said: “It is really exciting to be reviving and perfecting this technique which has been mostly ignored for more than 150 years.

“With the advancements in technology and science, we can now painlessly use electricity to create controlled smiles and frowns.

“It’s definitely a far cry from the famous exaggerated Victorian grimaces from the Charles Darwin published pictures

“Our research is still ongoing, but so far our initial studies show that this technique can help us understand how we perceive emotions based on our own expressions."