The “orgasm face” you make depends on the culture you grew up in, according to a new study. Researchers studied 3,600 facial expressions and how people reacted to those expressions. The study, called “Distinct Facial Expressions Represent Pain and Pleasure Across Cultures”, found that every culture expresses pain on their faces in the same way, but depending on where you were raised, your “O-face” is different than someone from another country. The research study was published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and was conducted at the University of Glasgow in Scotland.
According to researchers, “Observational studies report that people experiencing pain or orgasm produce facial expressions that are indistinguishable. Here, we investigate this counter intuitive finding using a new data-driven approach to model the mental representations of facial expressions of pain and orgasm in people from two different cultures. We show that representations of pain and orgasm are distinct in each culture. We also show that pain is represented with similar face movements across cultures, whereas orgasm shows differences.” In other words, facial expressions made during an awesome, pleasurable orgasm look exactly the same as someone getting punched in the balls.
It also found that “O face” differed from culture to culture. “Painful face” expressions in all cultures included “brow lowering, cheek raising, nose wrinkling, and mouth stretching”, according to the researchers.
The study used advance computer animation technology to create the thousands of images of facial expression. Participants in the study were asked to rate on a five point scale of “very strong” to “very weak” how they thought each expression expressed pain or orgasm. In the end, pain looked the same and orgasms looked different.
For people from Western cultures analyzing the expressions, they thought a “wide open mouth and wide open eyes” looked like the big O. For East Asian participants in the study evaluating the expressions, they thought an orgasm was happening when they saw “closed eyes and a smile”. Researchers noted that “Cross-cultural comparisons show differences in the facial expression models of orgasm, including wide-open eyes among Westerners and smiling in East Asians.”
Both Eastern and Western cultures saw pain as expressed by constriction of the facial muscles, while orgasms were expressed by a wider facial muscle movement. Researchers noted that “We anticipate that the development of new methods will allow better navigation of the complex social world and provide a richer, more accurate account of social communication.” You mean in the future we won’t have to ask the other person whether they had an orgasm or not?
Credit: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2018).