Theses Doctoral

Is this the face of sadness? Facial expression recognition and context

Diminich, Erica

A long standing debate in psychological science is whether the face signals specific emotions. Basic emotion theory presupposes that there are coordinated facial musculature movements that individuals can identify as relating to a core set of basic emotions. In opposition to this view, the constructionist theory contends that the perception of emotion is a far more intricate process involving semantic knowledge and arousal states. The aim of the current investigation was to explore some of the questions at the crux of this debate. We showed participants video clips of real people in real time, where the face was in motion, much as in everyday life. In study 1 we directly manipulated the effects of context to determine what influences emotion perception – situational information or the face? In support of the basic emotion view, participants identified displays of happiness, anger and sadness irrespective of contextual information provided. Importantly, participants also rated one set of facial movements as more intensely expressing a ‘sad’ face. Study 1 also demonstrated unique context effects in partial support for the constructionist view, suggesting that for some facial expressions, the role of context may be important. In study 2, we explored the possible effects that language has on the perception of emotion. In the absence of linguistic cues, participants used significantly more ‘happy’ and ‘sad’ words to label the basic emotion prototype for happiness and for the ‘sad’ face introduced in study 1. Overall, findings from these studies suggest that although contextual cues may be important for specific scenarios, the face is dominant to the layperson when inferring the emotional state of another.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Clinical Psychology
Thesis Advisors
Bonanno, George A.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
December 10, 2015