Science of Love, Sex, and Babies

Your left half bares all

Posted in news by jenapincott on May 20, 2009

jekyll_hyde_facesOne minor fascination of mine that I wrote about in BLONDES is facial asymmetry. Asymmetrical facial features themselves aren’t so interesting — everyone, save a few supermodels, has one brow that’s a little higher than the other or cockeyed ears. But the asymmetrical expression of feelings is interesting, and it turns out that there’s some real science to it.

Scientists have long known that the right side of the face is controlled by the left hemisphere of the brain, and the left side is controlled by the right hemisphere.

Why does this matter?

It means your left side gives away more about your state of mind than your right side. The right hemisphere of the brain is more “emotional” and, because it controls the left half of your face, raw emotions leak out more on the left than the right. Numerous studies have found evidence for what they call “right-hemisphere dominance” and “lateral symmetry of bodily emotion expression”. For instance: People who are emotionally expressive, particularly women, are inclined to turn their heads right, baring more left cheek. Artists tend to paint the left profile of their subjects, especially if the subject is a woman. The leftward bias, the researchers suggest, draws out more of the sitter’s true self. Portraits of powerful men, however, are commonly painted with more right cheek exposed. (Visiting an art museum the other week, I noticed this was true.) A recent study also found that the entire left body side expresses higher amplitude and energy than the right, resulting in higher expressiveness. Next time you find yourself gripped by feelings, be aware of which side of your body is more active.

Some studies suggest that negative emotions in particular are expressed on the left side of the face more than the right. (Note that artists’ renditions of a two-faced Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde here , here, here, here, and here always show Hyde as the left half of the face. Never is the good, rational doctor depicted on the left.)

When deciding which snap to use for my author photo, I was keenly aware of the difference between the left and right sides of my face. I hated the shots that showed more of my left profile. I looked too testy or too tentative; something was off. Friends disagreed, finding the left-biased portraits more charming and authentic. But I resisted and chose one with maximum right cheek — and felt more in control.


8 Responses

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  1. Shank said, on May 21, 2009 at 1:01 am

    RE: Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde

    I think another explanation for why Jekyll appears on the left (his right) and Hyde on the right (his left) is the name of the story. It would be confusing, for instance, if the position was as follows:

    Strange Case
    Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde

    (Picture of Hyde-face/Jekyll-face)

    It would give the impression that Jekyll was evil and Hyde was good.

  2. Emperor Ming said, on May 21, 2009 at 9:35 am

    Perhaps a little less self-absorbtion is required

  3. chronicthinker said, on May 21, 2009 at 11:29 am

    Interesting, I hadn’t read about this before. I often smile with only the left side of my mouth, and this theory makes sense for that.

    I do have a natural bias to show people only the right side of my face though, aside from any psychological reasons. I am blind in my left eye (though you can’t tell to look at me), so I need to look at people with my right one, and I don’t like people to be in what should be my left peripheral, because I can’t see them! :-p

    I agree with Shank’s comment though, re Jekyll & Hyde. There may also be a tendency to show it that way around because of the tradition that the devil sits on our left shoulder, not our right.

    Interesting read though, thanks. 🙂

  4. Michael Donovan said, on May 21, 2009 at 1:04 pm

    Innnteresting… I shoot fashion and Portrait photography for a living so I am always looking at faces. Now I’ll keep my eye out for this!!! 😀

  5. Marinkina said, on May 21, 2009 at 2:38 pm

    Качество друзей тоже надо учитывать. Дональд Трамп, например, на двадцатку потянет.

  6. heath said, on May 21, 2009 at 5:09 pm

    Hmmm — this explains what I described here —

    — this has a link to a NYTimes article abut left/right body action and emotions in dogs, btw.

    • jenapincott said, on May 21, 2009 at 7:12 pm

      Very interesting, thanks!

  7. bobobobo said, on May 21, 2009 at 7:42 pm

    gosh darn it, you’re right. MY left side somehow appears “tired”, while my right side appears “bright” and fresh

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