FaBL: Facial Behavior Lab University of Pittsburgh

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FaBL Lab Members
Karen L. Schmidt
Lab Director

Sharika Bhattacharya, B.S.
Protocol Coordinator

Research Projects

the FIND project
Psychosocial Health and Facial Nerve Disorder

Facial nerve disorders disrupt facial movement and expression, causing a variety of physical problems. People that are living with long term facial paralysis may also experience psychological and/or social effects resulting from their facial disorder. In this study, I am investigating the complex links among physical impairment in facial expression, psychological effects, social activity, and the ways that people with facial nerve disorder compensate for the loss of normal facial expression in everyday life. This study is funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health. If you are interested in participating in this study, please contact me at kschmidt@pitt.edu or 412-624-5432 or preview our information sheet in pdf version or word version . This research is being conducted in Pittsburgh at the Facial Nerve Center. If you are interested in possible treatment for your condition at the Facial Nerve Center, please see their website
For a recent paper from this research project see this abstract.
Facial Asymmetry during Expression
At peak facial expression, the face is often asymmetric, and the left side of the face in particular seems to be most expressive. The role of baseline asymmetry in the appearance of asymmetry at peak expression has not been fully determined using quantitative methods. Using methods developed by my colleague, Dr. Yanxi Liu, I have found that facial asymmetry at peak expression is significantly associated with structural facial asymmetry (asymmetry at neutral expression). However, there is no significant relationship between asymmetry of movement on the sides of the face (measured as change in pixels) and facial asymmetry at peak expression. This result was unexpected and suggests that asymmetric movement is not nearly as critical in producing asymmetric expression as previously thought.

Biological Variation in Facial Displays and Vocal Communication
I am currently modeling the movement of the face in facial displays (expressions) such as the smile and eyebrow raise. Work on spontaneous smiles indicates that lip corner movement during onset and offset is consistent across different contexts and may represent a conventionalized display or signal.
Facial expression is also directly linked, in many cases, with language. I am also studying the coordination of brow movements and vocal prosody during conversation in people with schizophrenia and in comparison individuals. Prosody includes nonverbal vocal characteristics such as vocal fundamental frequency and vocal contours. In a wider social context,the coordination of these nonverbal signals contributes to the success or failure of social interaction.
I am using Automated Facial Analysis for data collection in these two projects.

Cross-cultural Study of Nonverbal Behavior in Schizophrenia

My dissertation work was conducted in New Zealand and Papua New Guinea. I was interested in the differences in both nonverbal and verbal expression in people with schizophrenia, and the possible cross-cultural universality of these kinds of disturbed communication. I found, among other things, that people with schizophrenia were less expressive nonverbally than non-patients, and that they were slightly more likely to appear strange to people from another culture.

Additional Research Projects

Variation in Children’s Hyperactive, Inattentive and Impulsive Behavior
I have been a collaborator on a project on gender differences in child behavior conducted by my colleague, Dr. Alexandra Brewis , of Arizona State University. We analyzed a variety of data on child behavior, specifically inattentive, impulsive, and hyperactive behavior in a community sample of healthy children. These data were used to test evolutionarily derived hypotheses of child behavior related to a diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. For more information, see

Brewis, A.A., Schmidt, K.L. and M. Meyer 2000. ADHD-type Behavior and Harmful Dysfunction in Childhood: A Cross-Cultural Model. American Anthropologist 102(4), December 2000.abstract

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