Of interest to psychologists: Did your mother smile at you lovingly?
“Psychoanalysis must concern itself with this central symbol of personality (the face), particularly as the constitution and development of the early self and correlated disorders of the self are increasingly brought into focus.”


So stated Dr. Michael Eigen, renown psychologist and author of “On the Significance of the Face”. He identified key life events such as: the rapt stare of the human infant at the mother’s face during feeding, the expressively radiant smile (of the mother) as the child develops, and eventually, in a full, face-to-face sexual encounter which is unique to humans. (One might speculate that positive experience of the face could be integral to development of healthy sexual attitudes and behaviors.)

In fact, according to Psychology Today magazine: “A body of psychological research reveals that our earliest relationships, especially with our mother, not only influence how we are able to connect to others as adults—in romantic and other contexts—but also create internalized scripts or working models of how relationships work.”

Dr. Eigen cited “many authors who have indicated that one’s sense of self is intimately connected with early (facial) mirroring responses of significant others. The infant in large part builds his self image in terms of how he sees himself reflected through the eyes of his parents, in the first instance his mother.”

One observer “describes how a negative self-image is formed and repressed insofar as the mother unconsciously equates the infant’s self with feces or garbage. On the other hand, good maternal mirroring helps forms the basis of adequate self-esteem and the hopeful sense of possibilities.”

Another confirms the importance of “seeing the ‘gleam in the mother’s eye’ as opposed to the emptiness that follows when such empathetic responsiveness is missing….The mother’s expressive gestures, particularly facial and vocal, coupled with the quality of her touch and more obvious action patterns play a key role in spontaneously conveying to the infant the life enhancing or wounding quality of her psychic makeup.”

On the other hand, the so-called “smiling response”, once thought to originate with the stimulus of the mother’s smile because she is pleased with her offspring, can also be seen as originating with the infant as a manipulative function to elicit an empathic reaction. (This view seems to comport with recent theories that facial expression is more a tool of social control than a spontaneous and authentic manifestation of “true” emotion.)

As to the role of the therapist in facial encounters, Eigen noted: “Some patients with early disturbances are unable to create a rich and freeing image of the therapist….this suggests that the inability to experience and internalize has been impaired from the outset. The growing ability to experience and meaningfully represent the other’s face in such cases in not only achieved through insights or through the recall of repressed memories but proceeds in a hidden way, emerging in dreams, or slowly as a new growth or healing process.”

And this is key: “The appearance of a sustaining and enduring image of the therapist’s face may then be a crucial portent of cure at the deepest levels of personality.”

Self-portraiture may be useful as a tool of art therapy: Numerous observers have reported that patients’ self-image can be reflected in how they portray themselves in drawings, sketches and paintings. The self portraits of the artist, Van Gogh, who suffered from mental illness, have been frequently cited as examples.

Of interest to physicians: Does your face convey that “healthy glow?” (or “Qi”)?

The complexion of the face—coloration and texture—can reveal degrees of general, organic health and vitality as well as deterioration and stress. Chinese physicians speak of “Qi”, a “vital force or energy”, also manifested as a glow or sheen in the skin but which is not currently quantifiable by Western metrics or protocols. Chinese Medicine considers complexion, structure and contours of the face in diagnosis of specific organ systems: heart, lungs, liver, spleen, pancreas, kidneys. Creases and lines in the face are also interpreted in terms of personality traits and temperament such as joyful (smile lines) or dispirited (frown lines).

Western medicine also recognizes that changes in contour and structure of the face may be indicators of certain diseases of the adrenals and kidneys; facial asymmetry may signal stroke; puffiness, edematous and sagging facial tissues and eyelids are diagnostic clues to cardio-pulmonary and other organic disorders.

However, if more instances of varying and abnormal skin coloration and texture, including presence or absence of that “healthy glow”, noted from both Western and Chinese Medicine, could be correlated—as suggested in the techno thriller Faces Tell All, —a truly integrated diagnostic system might emerge. This could occur as facial diagnosis becomes more widespread in the West and medical interaction between China and the West progresses.

Of interest to social and media scientists: Does your face suggest power, competence or compassion?

Structure and features of the face, as reported in many studies of social psychology, can be suggestive of personality and character traits and thereby influence both self-image and the impressions of others; for example, face and head shapes and features such as noses, brows and jaws, that suggest massivity, strength, aggressiveness or competence, may influence perception.

Even archaic and pseudoscientific American textbooks of physiognomy from the 1880’s reveal what were apparent biases about certain ethnicities and types of faces resembling certain animals that likely still exist today and may be a basis for racist views. In general, human faces that resemble predatory animals are thought to suggest power and aggressiveness in those individuals, while those resembling prey or more docile animals tend to suggest milder or more passive personality traits.

A recent study of hockey players found a correlation between greater facial width, aggressiveness and testosterone levels. The investigators, not only speculated on a genetic/biological causation but also on the possibility that the aggressiveness—measured in penalty minutes served—had become a learned response based on perceptions and expectations (on the part of both actors and reactors) that larger, more aggressive looking individuals would behave that way.

Such possible psychological conditioning by certain faces jibes with the previously documented conclusions of Dr. Alexander Todorov of Princeton, author of “Face Value” who spoke of “self-fulfilling prophecies” that drive aspects of personality development.

(Characters in Faces Tell All discuss these phenomena and essentially, act them out, illustrating how humans mirror and influence each other with their faces.)

Facial expression, which conveys personality, emotion and intention, is a highly sophisticated aspect of non-verbal communication, permitting nuance and subtlety that mirrors spoken language. It is thought that some autistic individuals who lack the ability to read as well as express emotion properly, thus lack elements of proper sociability and social acumen.

The peculiarities and uniqueness of individual faces facilitate recognition and memory, enabling useful social interaction, but also totalitarian social control, as with the Chinese mass surveillance of their 1.4 billion people. In it, facial recognition technology—as foretold in Faces Tell All—may be coupled to facial diagnosis and analysis so that surveillance can reveal not only who and where people are but also what they are about and are likely to behave: an advanced form of monitoring and social control.

Of interest to experts in public relations, propaganda and cultural warfare: will mass audiences be deceived by “faked” facial imagery?

Digitalized re-creation cinematography can harness the hypnotic power of the human face to entrance and obsess us; driving our dreams and fantasies—and underlying celebrity worship, “stardom” narcissism and racism. Some say that since ancient times, a religious notion that mankind is created in the image of God(s) has led to what has been called a cult of selfism and self-worship. As such, we can be enthralled by the physical form of human face and body while cringing in terror at visages that are domineering, angry or fierce. The worlds of beauty and glamour that center on Hollywood and TV have their counterparts in the other mega industries of fashion and cosmetology, including plastic surgery—all to idealize the human image. An ancient example: The Chinese Emperor, Qin Shi Huang, 221 B.C., became one of the first propagandists in history when he re-commissioned his royal portrait in order to show more favorable features, thereby deceiving his subjects.

Faces Tell All imagines the use of such technologies: ultra-realistic, “faked” documentaries that re-write history. Their believability is enhanced by strobe-like subliminal effects known to scientists as brain entrainment. The propaganda and cultural wars of the future will be fought by advanced technology which exploits the power of the human face to command our attention.

Faces Tell All
Now available at Amazon.com, as print on demand;
ebook is expected in May, 2019.