I was just watching this new Woody Allen movie.
The Rachel McAdams character has contempt for her fiance and when she shows it, there’s a very particular shake of the head. You can see contempt in an expression. It’s not just an underlying feeling.
And as for feelings, they all depend on a particular alignment of them musculature.
To feel contempt, you have to compress and twist your torso. If you stay tall and poised, it verges on the impossible to feel contempt. If your neck is free, it’s virtually impossible to be unhappy.
Ekman and Friesen (1986) identified a specific facial expression that observers in each of ten cultures, both Western and non-Western, agreed signaled contempt.” In this study, citizens of West Sumatra, Indonesia, were given photos of American, Japanese, and Indonesian peoples. Their ability to classify some facial expressions as contempt versus the other categorical emotions of anger, disgust, happiness, sadness, fear, or surprise (with the level of agreement equating to 75%) shows that generally, across cultures, contempt is universally understood. “An expression in which the corner of the lip is tightened and raised slightly on one side of the face (or much more strongly on one side than the other) signaled contempt.” This study showed that contempt, as well as the outward expression of contempt, can be pointed out across Western and Non-Western peoples when contrasted with other primary emotions.
Another study by Ekman, Sorenson, and Friesen, published in 1969, studied “Pan-Cultural Elements in Facial Displays of Emotion.” Their findings suggest “that the pan-cultural element in facial displays of emotion is the association between facial muscular movements and discrete primary emotions, although cultures may still differ in what evokes an emotion, in rules for controlling the display of emotion, and in behavioral consequences.” Although some cultures differ in terms of how emotions are learned, taught and controlled, Ekman, Sorenson, and Friesen have found that cross culturally, emotions can be recognized similarly. Contempt may frequently be one of the emotions experienced by privileged social classes or castes against the oppressed class or caste.