Emotional expressions reconsidered: challenges to inferring emotion from human facial movements

Barrett, L. F., Adolphs, R., Marsella, S. , Martinez, A. M. and Pollak, S. D. (2019) Emotional expressions reconsidered: challenges to inferring emotion from human facial movements. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 20(1), pp. 1-68. (doi: 10.1177/1529100619832930) (PMID:31313636)

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It is commonly assumed that a person’s emotional state can be readily inferred from his or her facial movements, typically called emotional expressions or facial expressions. This assumption influences legal judgments, policy decisions, national security protocols, and educational practices; guides the diagnosis and treatment of psychiatric illness, as well as the development of commercial applications; and pervades everyday social interactions as well as research in other scientific fields such as artificial intelligence, neuroscience, and computer vision. In this article, we survey examples of this widespread assumption, which we refer to as the common view, and we then examine the scientific evidence that tests this view, focusing on the six most popular emotion categories used by consumers of emotion research: anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, and surprise. The available scientific evidence suggests that people do sometimes smile when happy, frown when sad, scowl when angry, and so on, as proposed by the common view, more than what would be expected by chance. Yet how people communicate anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, and surprise varies substantially across cultures, situations, and even across people within a single situation. Furthermore, similar configurations of facial movements variably express instances of more than one emotion category. In fact, a given configuration of facial movements, such as a scowl, often communicates something other than an emotional state. Scientists agree that facial movements convey a range of information and are important for social communication, emotional or otherwise. But our review suggests an urgent need for research that examines how people actually move their faces to express emotions and other social information in the variety of contexts that make up everyday life, as well as careful study of the mechanisms by which people perceive instances of emotion in one another. We make specific research recommendations that will yield a more valid picture of how people move their faces to express emotions and how they infer emotional meaning from facial movements in situations of everyday life. This research is crucial to provide consumers of emotion research with the translational information they require.

Item Type:Articles
Additional Information:The paper was supported by grants to from the U.S. Army Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences (W911NF-16-1-019), the National Cancer Institute (U01 CA193632) and the National Institute of Mental Health (R01 MH113234 and R01 MH109464) to LFB; the National Science Foundation (CMMI 1638234) to LFB and SM; NIMH grant 2P50MH094258 to RA; the National Institutes of Health (R01-DC-014498, R01-EY-020834) and the Human Frontier Science Program (RGP0036/2016) to AMM; NEI grant R56 EY020834 to AMM and LFB; the National Institute of Mental Health (R01 MH61285), the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (U54 HD090256) and a James McKeen Cattell Fund Fellowship to SDP; and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (FA9550-14-1-0364) to SM.
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Marsella, Professor Stacy
Authors: Barrett, L. F., Adolphs, R., Marsella, S., Martinez, A. M., and Pollak, S. D.
College/School:College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > School of Psychology & Neuroscience
Journal Name:Psychological Science in the Public Interest
ISSN (Online):1539-6053
Published Online:17 July 2019
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2019 The Authors
First Published:First published in Psychological Science in the Public Interest 20(1):1-68
Publisher Policy:Reproduced in accordance with the copyright policy of the publisher

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