Zeid Ali (left) and Hodayfa Ali are cousins. They were in their home in Mosul, Iraq when it collapsed upon being struck with artillery fire. At the time of this photo, some of their family members were missing.
Notice how each boy's central forehead, along with their medial eyebrows, are contracted upward (an elevated central forehead contraction [CFC]).
Their mid-face regions are also very tense - most notably with tremendous flaring of the nostrils and, continuing down past the corners of the mouth, a dramatic deepening of their nasolabial folds.
Hodayfi's and Zeid's upper teeth are primarily visible (little or no lower teeth can be seen) while their lower lips are protruding simultaneous with their dimpling chins. The corners of their mouths are also pulled laterally and most notably vectored downward.
Why is this image difficult to view? The answer is empathy. Why is it more uncomfortable to look at for some people than others? Because empathy varies from person to person.
These are also the faces we'll adopt when we're viewing others who are in emotional or physical pain.
When a person experiences pain - be it physical pain or emotional pain - the faces they'll project will look similar to Zeid's and Hodayfa's expressions - albeit often less extreme (for all human suffering is this not this intense). However, the high percentage of people who misidentify subtle, or even moderate examples of this same expression would surprise you (and thus moments of pain are frequently overlooked). Also, there are many people who, in everyday life (often subconsciously, although sometimes certainly consciously) feign empathy, physical pain, and emotional pain.
Recognizing the sincerity of any emotion will help you better discern these insincere scenarios - and this expression, when displayed for another person, is a crucial barometer of empathy. And it's to our profound advantage to date, marry, hire, be hired by, become friends with, and surround ourselves with empathic people.
How good are you at qualifying and quantifying empathy?
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