Emotion through Facial Expressions: The Universal Language?

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psych blog #5.jpgRegardless of language and culture barriers, people can read each other's emotions through facial expressions. This article, referred to a study from a journal of the American Psychological Association. The study concludes that "perception of emotional signals is not driven by language". Rather the study shows that emotions are "biological evolved mechanisms".

The actual study involves two groups: Yucatec Maya speakers and German speakers The Yucatec Maya speakers were chosen because they have only one word to describe both anger and disgust; the German speakers have a word for each expression. The two groups were shown pictures of facial expressions and asked what they thought each person was feeling emotionally. The Yucatec Maya speakers obviously spoke the same word for the pictures of anger and disgust, while the German speaker differentiated. But here's the quoted procedure--the author stated it best--of the important part of the study:

The participants from the two language groups were also asked to perform a task using photographs of people showing mixed emotions. The photographs were digitally manipulated to control the mix of emotions in the faces so that the two photos were always equally different across all pairs. Subjects were shown a photo of a mixed-emotion face, which was then replaced by a pair of photos. One of the members of the pair was the original photo, the other featured the same person, but with a slightly different mix of emotions. In some pairs, the dominant emotion in the two photos was different, while in other pairs, the dominant emotion was the same. The participants were asked, for many pairs of photos, which of the two pictures they had just seen. (Max-Planck-Gesellschaft)

The study showed that both the German and Yucatec Maya speakers had difficulty with the mixed-emotion pictures that contained similar emotions, and were better with the pictures where the emotions were substantially different, like anger and disgust. Thus the Yucatec Maya speakers were able to differentiate between anger and disgust--although they use the same word.

People are social, and emotions were probably the first form of communication, before the onset of vocal communication. If we look at our closest cousins, the primates we can see similar behavior. Primates also communicate with facial expressions such as showing teeth to show fear or anger.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/11/111102093045.htm or LINK!

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Nice summary of the study.

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This page contains a single entry by moonx174 published on November 20, 2011 9:33 PM.

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