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The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals

The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals
Author Charles Darwin
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Subject Evolutionary theory human behaviour
Publisher John Murray
Publication date

The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals is a book by Charles Darwin, published in 1872, concerning genetically determined aspects of behaviour. It was published thirteen years after On the Origin of Species and alongside his 1871 book The Descent of Man, it is Darwin's main consideration of human origins. In this book, Darwin seeks to trace the animal origins of human characteristics, such as the pursing of the lips in concentration and the tightening of the muscles around the eyes in anger and efforts of memory. Darwin sought out the opinions of some eminent British psychiatrists, notably James Crichton-Browne, in the preparation of the book which forms Darwin's main contribution to psychology.[1]The Expression of the Emotions is also an important landmark in the history of book illustration.

The Book's Development: biographical aspects

File:Expression of the Emotions Figure 21.png
Figure 21, "Horror and Agony", from a photograph by Guillaume Duchenne (more images)

In the weeks before Queen Victoria's coronation in 1838, Charles Darwin sought medical advice on his mysterious physical symptoms, and then travelled to Scotland for a period of rest and a "geologizing expedition" – but actually spent some of his time revisiting the old haunts of his undergraduate days. On the day of the coronation, 28 June 1838, Darwin was in Edinburgh. A few days later, he opened a private notebook with philosophical and psychological speculation – the M Notebook – and, over the next three months, filled it with his thoughts about the possible interaction of hereditary factors with the mental and behavioural aspects of human and animal life.[2]

The critical importance of the M notebook has usually been viewed in its relationship to Darwin's conception of natural selection as the central mechanism of evolutionary development, which he probably grasped around 28 September 1838.[3][4][5] These notes have a tentative and fragmented quality, especially in Darwin's descriptions of conversation with his father (a successful doctor with a special interest in psychiatric problems) about recurring patterns of behaviour in successive generations of his patients' families.[6] Darwin was anxious about the materialistic drift in his thinking – and of the disrepute which this could attract in early Victorian England – at the time, he was mentally preparing for marriage with his cousin Emma Wedgwood who held firm Christian beliefs. On 21 September 1838, Darwin recorded a confused and disturbing dream in which he was involved in a public execution where the corpse came to life and claimed to have faced death like a hero.[7] In summary: Darwin put together the central features of his evolutionary theory at the same time that he was considering a scientific understanding of human behaviour and family life – and he was in some emotional turmoil. A discussion of the significance of Darwin's early notebooks can be found in Paul H. Barrett's Metaphysics, Materialism and the Evolution of Mind – Early Writings of Charles Darwin (1980).[2]

Little of this surfaced in On the Origin of Species in 1859, although Chapter 7 contains a mildly expressed argument on instinctive behaviour.[8] In the public management of his evolutionary theory, Darwin understood that its relevance to human emotional life could draw a hostile response. Nevertheless, while preparing the text of The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication in 1866, Darwin decided to focus his public statement of evolutionary biology with a book on human ancestry, sexual selection and secondary sexual characteristics, including emotional expression. After his initial correspondence with the psychiatrist James Crichton-Browne[9] Darwin set aside his material concerning emotional expression to complete The Descent of Man, which covered human ancestry and sexual selection. Darwin concluded work on The Descent of Man on 15 January 1871. Two days later, he started work on The Expression of the Emotions, employing the unused material on emotional expression; and, on 22 August 1872, he finished work on the proofs. In this way, Darwin brought his evolutionary theory into close approximation with behavioural science, although many Darwin scholars have remarked on a kind of spectral Lamarckism haunting the text of the Emotions.[citation needed]

Darwin notes the universal nature of expressions in the book:

This connection of mental states to the neurological organisation of movement (as the word emotion suggests) was central to Darwin's understanding of emotion. Darwin himself displayed many biographical links between his psychological life and locomotion, taking long, solitary walks around Shrewsbury after his mother's death in 1817, in his seashore rambles near Edinburgh with the Lamarckian evolutionist Robert Edmond Grant in 1826/1827,[10][11][12] and in the laying out of the sandwalk, his "thinking path", at Down House in Kent in 1846.[13] These aspects of Darwin's personal development are discussed in John Bowlby's (1990) psychoanalytic biography of Darwin.[14]

Darwin points to a shared human and animal ancestry in sharp contrast to the arguments deployed in Charles Bell's Anatomy and Philosophy of Expression (1824),[15][16] which claimed that there were divinely created human muscles to express uniquely human feelings. Bell's famous aphorism on the subject was:

In The Expression, Darwin reformulates the issues at play:

hinting at a neurological intimacy of language with psychomotor function (body language). However, Darwin agreed with Bell's emphasis on the expressive functions of the muscles of respiration.[17] Darwin had listened to an attack on Bell's opinions by the phrenologist William A. F. Browne at the Plinian Society in December 1826, when he was a medical student at Edinburgh University. Darwin's response to Bell's neurological theories is discussed by Lucy Hartley (2001).[18]

In the composition of the book, Darwin drew on worldwide responses to his questionnaire (circulated in the early months of 1867) concerning emotional expression in different ethnic groups, on hundreds of photographs of actors, babies and children, and on descriptions of psychiatric patients in the West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum at Wakefield in West Yorkshire. Darwin corresponded intensively with James Crichton-Browne, the superintendent of the Wakefield asylum and the son of the phrenologist William A. F. Browne. At the time, Crichton-Browne was preparing his West Riding Lunatic Asylum Medical Reports, and Darwin remarked to him that the book "should be called by Darwin and Browne".[19] Darwin also drew on his personal experience of the symptoms of bereavement. He considered other approaches to the study of emotions, including their depiction in the arts – discussed by the anatomist Robert Knox in his Manual of Artistic Anatomy (1852) and by the actor Henry Siddons in his Practical Illustrations of Rhetorical Gesture and Action (1807) – but abandoned them as unreliable.

File:Plate depicting emotions of grief from Charles Darwin's book The Expression of the Emotions.jpg
Illustration of grief from The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals


Darwin opens the book with three chapters on "the general principles of expression", followed by a section (three more chapters) on modes of emotional expression peculiar to particular species, including man. He then moves on to the main argument with his characteristic approach of astonishingly widespread and detailed observations. Chapter 7 discusses "low spirits", including anxiety, grief, dejection and despair; and the contrasting Chapter 8 "high spirits" with joy, love, tender feelings and devotion. Subsequent chapters include considerations of "reflection and meditation" (associated with "ill-temper", sulkiness and determination), Chapter 10 on hatred and anger, Chapter 11 on "disdain, contempt, disgust, guilt, pride, helplessness, patience and affirmation" and Chapter 12 on "surprise, astonishment, fear and horror". In Chapter 13, Darwin discusses complex emotional states including self-attention, shame, shyness, modesty and blushing. Throughout these chapters, Darwin's concern was to show how human expressions link human movements with emotional states, and are genetically determined and derive from purposeful animal actions.


It was one of the first books with photographs – with seven heliotype plates[20] – and the publisher John Murray warned that this "would poke a terrible hole in the profits".[21]

The published book assembled illustrations rather like a Victorian family album, with engravings of the Darwin family's domestic pets by the zoological illustrator T. W. Wood as well as work by the artists Briton Rivière, Joseph Wolf and A.D. May. It also included portraits by the Swedish photographer Oscar Rejlander (1813–1875), anatomical diagrams by Sir Charles Bell (1774–1842) and Friedrich Henle (1809–1885), and illustrational quotations from the Mécanisme de la Physionomie Humaine (1862) by the French neurologist Duchenne de Boulogne (1806–1875).[22]

Darwin received dozens of photographs of psychiatric patients from James Crichton-Browne, but included in the book only one engraving (photoengraved by James Davis Cooper) based on these illustrations – sent on 6 June 1870 (along with Darwin's copy of Duchenne) (Darwin Correspondence Project: Letter 7220). This was Figure 19, page 296 – and showed a patient under the care of Dr James Gilchrist at the Southern Counties Asylum, the public wing of the (Crichton Royal) in Dumfries.



The review in the January 1873 Quarterly Journal of Science concluded that "although some parts are a little tedious, from the amount of minute detail required, there is throughout so much of acute observation and amusing anecdote as to render it perhaps more attractive to general readers than any of Mr. Darwin's previous work".[23]


Eric Korn, in the London Review of Books, describes how the book was claimed, and he argues subverted, by Margaret Mead and her "sympathisers", and then presented afresh by Paul Ekman, who had himself collected pro-Darwin, anti-Mead evidence, Korn writes, for the universality of human facial expression of emotions. Darwin, suggests Korn, cunningly avoided unsettling the Victorian public by arguing that humans had "animal traits", and instead charmed them by telling stories of "human traits in animals", avoiding too much explicit talk of natural selection at work, preferring, Korn thinks, to leave the Darwinian implication hanging. Korn points out that the book has never been out of print since 1872, giving the lie to Ekman's talk of "Darwin's lost masterpiece".[24]

The "Editor's notes" at the "Mead Project source page" on the book comment that

Darwin's book ... is among the most enduring contributions from 19th century psychology. The ideas expressed in its pages have persisted, for better or worse, down through the present, in one form or another. Although premised on an unsupportable interpretation of the nature of "expression," it is this idea that permeates the majority of work on emotional experience within psychology... Dewey's critique of Darwin's principles provides no small part of the foundations on which functionalist psychology is built. Similarly, the work plays a very large part in George Herbert Mead's discussion of the formation of significant symbols, as outlined in the early chapters of Mind, Self and Society. As Dewey notes, the arguments presented by Darwin may be wrong, but they are compelling.[25]


Darwin concluded work on the book with a sense of relief. The proofs, tackled by his daughter Henrietta ("Ettie") and son Leo, required a major revision which made Darwin "sick of the subject and myself, and the world".[26]

It quickly sold around 7,000 copies and was widely praised as a charming and accessible introduction to Darwin's evolutionary theories.[27]

A second edition was published by Darwin's son in 1889, without several revisions suggested by Darwin; these were not published until the third edition of 1999 (edited by Paul Ekman).[28]


File:Expression of the Emotions Figure 4.png
Figure 4: "A small dog watching a cat on a table", made from a photograph by Oscar Gustave Rejlander

The lavish style of biological illustration[29] was followed in work on animal locomotion by Eadweard Muybridge (1830–1904)[30] and James Bell Pettigrew[31][32] (1832–1908); in the extensively (and unreliably) illustrated works of the evolutionary biologist Ernst Haeckel; and – to a lesser extent – in D'Arcy Thompson's On Growth and Form (1917).[33]

Darwin's ideas were followed up in William James' What Is An Emotion ? (1884) and Walter Cannon's Bodily Changes in Pain, Hunger, Fear and Rage (1915)[34] – in which Cannon coined the famous phrase fight or flight response. On 24 January 1895, James Crichton-Browne delivered a notable lecture in Dumfries, Scotland On Emotional Expression, presenting some of his reservations about Darwin's views.[35] In 2003, the New York Academy of Sciences published Emotions Inside Out: 130 Years after Darwin's The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, a compendium of 37 papers with current research on the subject.

Freud's early publications on the symptoms of hysteria (with his influential concept of unconscious emotional conflict) acknowledged debts to Darwin's work on emotional expression.[36] Darwin's impact on psychoanalysis is discussed in detail by Lucille Ritvo.[37] Constitutional (psychosomatic) theories of personality were later elaborated by Paul Schilder[38] (1886 - 1940) with his notion of the body image, by Ernst Kretschmer and in the (now discredited) somato-typology of W H Sheldon (1898 - 1977). The biology of the human emotions was further explored by Desmond Morris in his popular book Manwatching.[39]


  1. ^ Darwin Charles, Ekman Paul, Prodger Phillip (1998) The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, 3rd edn, London: Harper Collins.
  2. ^ a b Barrett 1980
  3. ^ Barrett 1980, p. xviii
  4. ^ Ospovat, Dov (1981) The Development of Darwin's Theory Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
  5. ^ Mayr, Ernst (1991) One Long Argument: Charles Darwin and the genesis of modern evolutionary thought Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press
  6. ^ Barrett 1980, pp. 6–37
  7. ^ Browne, E. Janet (1995) Charles Darwin: Voyaging, London: Jonathan Cape, pp 383 – 384.
  8. ^ Barrett 1980, p. xix
  9. ^ Pearn, Alison M. (2010) "This Excellent Observer..." : the Correspondence between Charles Darwin and James Crichton-Browne, 1869 – 75, History of Psychiatry, 21, 160 – 175
  10. ^ Desmond, Adrian (1982) Archetypes and Ancestors: Palaeontology in Victorian London 1850 – 1875 Chicago: Chicago University of Chicago Press, pp 116 – 121
  11. ^ Desmond, Adrian (1989) The Politics of Evolution: Morphology, Medicine and Reform in Radical London Chicago: University of Chicago Press
  12. ^ Stott, Rebecca (2003) Darwin and the Barnacle London: Faber and Faber
  13. ^ Boulter, Michael (2006) Darwin's Garden: Down House and the Origin of Species London: Constable
  14. ^ Bowlby, John (1990) Charles Darwin, A Biography London: Hutchinson.
  15. ^ Bell, Charles (1806) Essays on the Anatomy of Expression in Painting London:
  16. ^ Bell, Charles (1824) Essays on the Anatomy and Philosophy of Expression London: John Murray
  17. ^ Bowlby, pp. 6 – 14
  18. ^ Hartley, Lucy (2001) Physiognomy and the Meaning of Expression in Nineteenth Century Culture Cambridge University Press
  19. ^ Walmsley, Tom (1993) Psychiatry in Descent: Darwin and the Brownes, Psychiatric Bulletin, 17, 748 – 751
  20. ^ Phillip Prodger Curator of Photography Peabody Essex Museum (29 August 2009). Darwin's Camera : Art and Photography in the Theory of Evolution. Oxford University Press. pp. 109–. ISBN 978-0-19-972230-3. Retrieved 4 August 2013. Heliotype was a new photomechanical method of reproduction invented by the photographer Ernest Edwards (1837–1903), for whom Darwin had sat for a portrait in 1868. Although he had no experience in photographic publishing, Darwin suggested this new technique to John Murray. ... heliotype reduced the cost of production considerably, enabling Darwin to afford the unprecedented number of photographs appearing in Expression. 
  21. ^ Charles Darwin (9 April 1998). The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals. Oxford University Press. pp. 401–. ISBN 978-0-19-977197-4. Retrieved 4 August 2013. Darwin's English publisher, John Murray, was at first opposed to the idea of using photographs to illustrate the book. He advised Darwin that the inclusion of photographs would make Expression a money- losing proposition 
  22. ^ Duchenne (de Boulogne), G.-B., (1990) The Mechanism of Human Facial Expression by Guillaume-Benjamin (Amand) Duchenne de Boulogne edited and translated by R. Andrew Cuthbertson, Cambridge University Press and Paris: Éditions de la Maison des Sciences de L'Homme, originally published (1862) Paris: Éditions Jules Renouard, Libraire
  23. ^ Anon (January 1873). "Darwin's "The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals"". Quarterly Journal of Science: 113–118. 
  24. ^ Korn, Eric (November 1998). "How far down the dusky bosom?". London Review of Books 20 (23): 23–24. 
  25. ^ c/o Ward, Lloyd Gordon (2007). "A Mead Project Source Page: The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animal". The Mead Project, Brock University, Ontario, Canada. Retrieved 3 April 2013. 
  26. ^ Frederick Burkhardt; Sydney Smith; David Kohn; William Montgomery (10 March 1994). A Calendar of the Correspondence of Charles Darwin, 1821–1882. Cambridge University Press. pp. 366–. ISBN 978-0-521-43423-2. To [Leonard Darwin] 29 July [ 1 872] [Down] CD cannot improve style [of Expression] without great changes. 'I am sick of the subject, and myself, and the world'. 
  27. ^ Keith Francis (2007). Charles Darwin and The Origin of Species. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 20–. ISBN 978-0-313-31748-4. 1872 19 February: Sixth edition of The Origin of Species is published (3,000 copies printed). [63] 26 November: The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals is published (7,000 copies printed; 5,267 sold). 1874 Second edition of The ... 
  28. ^ Black, J (Jun 2002), "Darwin in the world of emotions" (FREE FULL TEXT), Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine 95 (6): 311–3, ISSN 0141-0768, PMC 1279921, PMID 12042386, doi:10.1258/jrsm.95.6.311 
  29. ^ Prodger, Phillip (2009) Darwin's Camera: Art and Photography in the Theory of Evolution Oxford University Press
  30. ^ Prodger, Phillip (2003) Time Stands Still: Muybridge and the instantaneous photography movement The Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Center for the Visual Arts, Stanford University, in association with Oxford University Press
  31. ^ Pettigrew, James Bell (1874) Animal Locomotion, or, Walking, Swimming and Flying, with a dissertation on Aeronautics New York: D. Appleton and Co.
  32. ^ Pettigrew, James Bell (1908) Design in Nature, 3 vols, London: Longman
  33. ^ Smith, Jonathan (2006) Charles Darwin and Victorian Visual Culture Cambridge University Press, especially pp. 179 – 243
  34. ^ Cannon, Walter B. (1915) Bodily Changes in Pain, Hunger, Fear and Rage – An Account of Recent Researches into the Function of Emotional Excitement New York: D. Appleton and Co.
  35. ^ [Crichton-Browne, James] (1895) Conversazione, - and the Presidential Address – "On Emotional Expression", Transactions and the Journal of Proceedings of the Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society, Series II, 11, pp 72–77, Dumfries: The Courier and Herald Offices
  36. ^ Sulloway, Frank J. (1979) Freud, Biologist of the Mind: Beyond the Psychoanalytic Legend London: Burnett Books/Andre Deutsch
  37. ^ Ritvo, Lucille B. (1990) Darwin's Influence on Freud: A Tale of Two Sciences New Haven and London: Yale University Press
  38. ^ Schilder, Paul (1950) The Image and Appearance of the Human Body: Studies in the Constructive Energies of the Psyche New York: International Universities Press
  39. ^ Morris, Desmond (1978) Manwatching: A Field Guide To Human Behaviour London: Triad Panther.


  • Barrett, Paul (1980), Metaphysics, Materialism, & the evolution of mind: the early writings of Charles Darwin, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, ISBN 0-226-13659-0, Early writings of Charles Darwin. With a commentary by Howard E. Gruber 

External links

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