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Electroshock Therapy to the Face… The Experiments of Duchenne

Guillaume-Benjamin-Amand Duchenne de Boulogne was a pioneer of neurology in the 1800s, and his work on human facial expressions was influential on some of Darwin’s theories of human evolution. Duchenne believed that our facial expressions were a gateway to the soul, and he set out to create as many as he could using electric shocks delivered to the facial muscles with small probes. At the time that he was developing his experiments that he would document in his monograph The Mechanism of Human Facial Expression, photography was in its infancy, and he used the burgeoning art to capture the experiments he conducted on a handful of patients. He worked with photographer Adrian Tournachon, who helped him capture the fleeting expressions he produced, which Duchenne argued could not have been accurately captured by drawing or painting due to their speed. The most prominent face he featured was that of “The Old Man,” a toothless and emaciated man whose face he manipulated mercilessly with his electric shocks. He faced some criticism for his use of the old man, but he stated that the patient could not feel the pain of the shocks because of numbing condition in his face. With each of his patients, he aimed to show both the scientific mechanism of expression – the actual muscles which worked to create thirteen distinct emotions on our face – and the aesthetics of our expressions. Duchenne believed that beauty could be found in the manipulation of the facial expressions, that finding the perfect expressions could transform an otherwise ugly face into a “spiritually beautiful” one. The images he and Tournachon captured are incredibly haunting and inspirational, check out a selection from The Mechanism of Human Facial Expression below.

 

All images via Wellcome Library, London and scott-eaton.com

 

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L0040124 Experiments in physiology. Expression: ferocious cruelty Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org The facial expression of ferocious cruelty on the human face being induced by electrical currents. Photograph 19th Century By: Guillaume Benjamin Amand Duchenne de BoulogneMécanisme de la physionomie humaine, ou, Analyse électro-physiologique de l'expression des passions Guillaume Benjamin Amand Duchenne de Boulogne Published: 1862 Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Duchenne_Mecanisme_de_la_physionomie_humaine,_fig._78 duchenne_expressions_page8 duchenne_expressions_page7 duchenne_expressions_page6 duchenne_expressions_page5 duchenne_expressions_page4 duchenne_expressions_page3 duchenne_expressions_page2 duchenne_expressions_page1 640px-Guillaume_Duchenne_de_Boulogne_performing_facial_electrostimulus_experiments_(3)

 

Written By

Meghan MacRae grew up in Vancouver, Canada, but spent many years living in the remote woods. Living in the shadow of grizzly bears, cougars and the other predators of the wilderness taught her about the dark side of nature, and taught her to accept her place in nature's order as their prey. She is co-founder of CVLT Nation.

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