A. When presented with photographs of gatherings of people drawn from different countries and asked to select those from the same region as themselves, research participants do quite well, so long as the facial expressions are not neutral, says Marianne LaFrance, Ph.D., in “Lip Service.”
“It is rather amazing that a still shot of a facial expression caught in midstream is enough to mark a person as belonging to one's own group; in short, a facial accent.” To be an insider is to have a deeply embedded knowledge about how others of the same culture smile, even while being hard pressed to describe what it is.
Further, scientists have identified different facial focal points for different cultures. For example, the Japanese are drawn to the eyes, Americans to the lower part of the face. Even simple “emoticons” used in email messages carry facial accents: In the U.S., a smile's typical representation is the colon followed by a closing parenthesis :) or alternately :-). For a sad face, the colon is followed by an opening parenthesis :( or :-(. The Japanese emoticon for a happy face is (^_^) and for a crying face (;_;). It's not surprising that cartoons produced in the U.S. and Japan reflect these different emphases as well.
A. Nothing is quite as fickle as a microwaved burrito, with one bite scorching the tongue and the next turning up a cold lump of beans and cheese, says Judy Dutton in “Wired” magazine. To better gauge this paradox, Suvi Ryynanen of the University of Helsinki inserted thermometer probes into various foods before nuking and found the difference between the hottest and coldest spots to be greater than 150 degrees — “a range sure to flummox even the most ardent consumer of microwavable food.” Why so much variation?