Background: A Noh mask worn by expert actors when performing on a Japanese traditional Noh drama is suggested to convey countless different facial expressions according to different angles of head/body orientation. The present study addressed the question of how different facial parts of a Noh mask, including the eyebrows, the eyes, and the mouth, may contribute to different emotional expressions. Both experimental situations of active creation and passive recognition of emotional facial expressions were introduced. Methodology/Principal Findings: In Experiment 1, participants either created happy or sad facial expressions, or imitated a face that looked up or down, by actively changing each facial part of a Noh mask image presented on a computer screen. For an upward tilted mask, the eyebrows and the mouth shared common features with sad expressions, whereas the eyes with happy expressions. This contingency tended to be reversed for a downward tilted mask. Experiment 2 further examined which facial parts of a Noh mask are crucial in determining emotional expressions. Participants were exposed to the synthesized Noh mask images with different facial parts expressing different emotions. Results clearly revealed that participants primarily used the shape of the mouth in judging emotions. The facial images having the mouth of an upward/downward tilted Noh mask strongly tended to be evaluated as sad/happy, respectively. Conclusions/Significance: The results suggest that Noh masks express chimeric emotional patterns, with different facial parts conveying different emotions This appears consistent with the principles of Noh which highly appreciate subtle and composite emotional expressions, as well as with the mysterious facial expressions observed in Western art. It was further demonstrated that the mouth serves as a diagnostic feature in characterizing the emotional expressions. This indicates the superiority of biologically-driven factors over the traditionally formulated performing styles when evaluating the emotions of the Noh masks.
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