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Are facial expressions universal?

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This story appears in the July 1998 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

So you're planning a business trip to ? Well, consider this: The basic, everyday facial expressions you wear during negotiations may be misunderstood. That's because, according to the findings of a recent study, Japanese natives sometimes misconstrue even common facial expressions like sadness or fear.

"Some basic human expressions are generally universal--like a happy face--and the majority of Japanese and Americans would have no problem [identifying them,]" says Siu Wa Tang, chairman of the department of psychiatry at the University of California, Irvine, who is conducting the ongoing Human Facial Expressions and study. "But when it comes to expressions like surprise or contempt, which are a bit more complex, there seems to be some difficulty."

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