Thursday, April 5, 2007

Culture Is Key To Interpreting Facial Emotions

"Culture Is Key To Interpreting Facial Emotions"

Science Daily — Research has uncovered that
culture is a determining factor when interpreting
facial emotions. The study reveals that in
cultures where emotional control is the standard,
such as Japan, focus is placed on the eyes to
interpret emotions. Whereas in cultures where
emotion is openly expressed, such as the United
States, the focus is on the mouth to interpret

Across two studies, using computerized icons and
human images, the researchers compared how
Japanese and American cultures interpreted
images, which conveyed a range of emotions.

'These findings go against the popular theory
that the facial expressions of basic emotions can
be universally recognized,' said University of
Alberta researcher Dr. Takahiko Masuda. 'A
person's culture plays a very strong role in
determining how they will perceive emotions and
needs to be considered when interpreting facial

These cultural differences are even noticeable in
computer emoticons, which are used to convey a
writer's emotions over email and text messaging.
Consistent with the research findings, the
Japanese emoticons for happiness and sadness vary
in terms of how the eyes are depicted, while
American emoticons vary with the direction of the
mouth. In the United States the emoticons : ) and
: - ) denote a happy face, whereas the emoticons
:( or : - ( denote a sad face. However, Japanese
tend to use the symbol (^_^) to indicate a happy
face, and (;_;) to indicate a sad face.

When participants were asked to rate the
perceived levels of happiness or sadness
expressed through the different computer
emoticons, the researchers found that the
Japanese still looked to the eyes of the
emoticons to determine its emotion.

"We think it is quite interesting and appropriate
that a culture that tends to masks its emotions,
such as Japan, would focus on a person's eyes
when determining emotion, as eyes tend to be
quite subtle," said Masuda. "In the United
States, where overt emotion is quite common, it
makes sense to focus on the mouth, which is the
most expressive feature on a person's face."

These findings are published in the current issue
of The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology
and are a result from a collaborative study
between Masaki Yuki (Hokkaido University),
William Maddux (INSEAD) and Takahiko Masuda
(University of Alberta). The results also suggest
the interesting possibility that the Japanese may
be better than Americans at detecting "false
smiles". If the position of the eyes is the key
to whether someone's smile is false or true,
Japanese may be particularly good at detecting
whether someone is lying or being "fake".
However, these questions can only be answered
with future research.

Note: This story has been adapted from a news
release issued by University of Alberta.
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rights reserved —

1 comment:

Andrea said...

Sometimes I feel like I recognize people by their expressions as much as their actual features. Like the current issue of Wired magazine has Jenna Fischer, who plays Pam on the TV show the Office. I always recognize Pam on the show but even after I read who the covergirl is there was no flash of recognition. I think it's because she's grinning broadly on the magazine cover. On the show she is either straightfaced or giving the barest wisp of an ironic, conspiratorial smile.