Apes and Lips
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19-11-2012, 04:07 AM
Apes and Lips
Human beings are incredibly adept at reading body language. In fact, we're better at reading the movements of others than we are their words. When an infant is born, it must rely on visual cues as its main way of taking in information about its environment; being that it has not yet mastered our secondary communication system: verbal speech. Body language says more about our emotions and intentions than words ever could. Words, after all, can be vague, or out-right lies. Much of our body language remains completely out of our control.

I am an observant person. I consciously - and subconsciously - search for the most subtle of movements when speaking to or observing another individual. Anything that will give me some clue as to what they're thinking.

I've noticed, on several occasions, that when two males are entered into a tense situation, they tend to slightly purse their lips. When glaring at someone in traffic or when being glared at by someone else; both parties will contract their lip muscles in the slightest of ways, as if to pucker. This is not blatantly obvious, but it is something very minute that I've seen occur on several occasions. What's more, I've noticed myself doing it when in heated circumstances.

My question is: is this some sort of residual evolutionary trait? Do apes pucker their lips for some reason? Is it a fight or intimidation signal?

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19-11-2012, 09:46 AM
RE: Apes and Lips
Yes.

Probably.

tbh, I'm more interested in why some people (e.g. me and fellow autists) are shit at reading these signals.
It strikes me as odd that some are making tidy sums writing books explaining body language... shouldn't this ability be innate in apes?

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19-11-2012, 11:56 AM
RE: Apes and Lips
I have a good deal of knowledge on apes. However, I'm currently staying in an area with only occasional internet access. I will try to give you an answer in the next few days.
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20-11-2012, 02:10 AM
RE: Apes and Lips
(19-11-2012 09:46 AM)DLJ Wrote:  Yes.

Probably.

tbh, I'm more interested in why some people (e.g. me and fellow autists) are shit at reading these signals.
It strikes me as odd that some are making tidy sums writing books explaining body language... shouldn't this ability be innate in apes?
It is, but we're at a point now when we are able to specifically describe what body language means and how it's expressed. The books and lectures explain what exactly is happening when we look at a person and subconsciously pick up on the almost invisible movements which express sexual desire, anger, sadness, etc. That way, people can be more consciously aware of what to look for so that they can make decisions accordingly.
As for those who aren't that great at it; there are certain mental imbalances that can affect how people read social signals. Plus (and this is just conjecture on my part), I would imagine that after a few thousand years of communicating using complex verbal language, perhaps our body-reading skills have been affected to some degree.

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20-11-2012, 10:05 AM
RE: Apes and Lips
I unfortunately do not have access to my books on chimpanzees. However, I do know that the lips are a very powerful communication tool in ape society. Infants, for instance, will round their lips in order to make cooing noises when begging for food or pant hooting noises when appeasing an angry adult. Other times, they cover the top row of their teeth with their upper lip, while showing the bottom row of their teeth. This is commonly known as the “play face.” Children and adults curl both of their lips back to expose their teeth when they are scared or nervous. This is an involuntary muscle movement as individuals not wishing to broadcast their moment of weakness will sometimes quickly slap their hand over their mouth. It’s possible then that a human pursing their lips in a tense moment was the evolutionary answer to this problem. It covers up the teeth and leaves the hands free for other things. Adult male chimpanzees often square off by puffing up their hair, screaming, flailing their arms, and throwing or hitting heavy objects. This is meant to be a display of strength to their enemies and a display of health and virility to prospective mates. Humans lost their ability to willing puff up their hair (the mechanism eventually gave rise to involuntary goose bumps), so lip pursing is probably one of many adaptations that we have had to make in order to hide weakness and broadcast strength. Please keep in mind that this is just an educated guess.

(19-11-2012 09:46 AM)DLJ Wrote:  Yes.

Probably.

tbh, I'm more interested in why some people (e.g. me and fellow autists) are shit at reading these signals.
It strikes me as odd that some are making tidy sums writing books explaining body language... shouldn't this ability be innate in apes?

Apes are masters of reading body language. They are known to give zoo handlers hugs when they notice the person is in a bad mood. They do the same thing in the wild to their troop mates. Humans lost their ability to effectively read such bodily cues with the advent of language. We now rely more heavily on communicating our feelings through words instead of our facial expression or body posture. Not surprisingly, deaf people are good at picking up on said cues. This is because they use their eyes more than their ears to gain information about the world around. Sign language uses both facial and hand movements to communicate. The emotional power of a given statement can depend on the signer’s facial expression and the speed and rhythm of their hand movements. Autistics aren’t good at reading signals because their disorder negatively affects their ability to socialize. For example, (as I’m sure you know) some autistic children have problems making eye contact with their parents and other adults. You can’t read cues if you aren’t looking at someone. On a related note, autism also affects chimpanzees. They suffer from the same anti-social nature and compulsive repetitive habits.
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21-11-2012, 01:03 PM (This post was last modified: 21-11-2012 01:26 PM by ghostexorcist.)
RE: Apes and Lips
This ethogram list of chimpanzee facial expressions may have a more definitive answer. "Bulging-lips face" (second on the list) is a type of glare that is performed "prior to attack or copulation." This research paper states:

Quote: At this very preliminary state, one can reasonably describe similarities in the facial movements between prototypical chimpanzee expressions and human emotional expressions (Parr et al., in press). In their study, these authors most closely matched the AUs’ configurations of the chimpanzee bared-teeth display and human smile, chimpanzee screams to human screams, the chimpanzee bulging lip face to human anger, chimpanzee laughter to human laughter, but could not find a good human equivalent for the chimpanzee pant-hoot.

This research paper has a figure with side-by-side comparisons of chimp and human facial expressions. See the first set at the top.
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