Distinct facial expressions represent pain and pleasure across cultures

Chen, C. , Crivelli, C., Garrod, O. G.B., Schyns, P. G. , Fernandez-Dols, J.-M. and Jack, R. E. (2018) Distinct facial expressions represent pain and pleasure across cultures. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 115(43), E10013-E10021. (doi: 10.1073/pnas.1807862115) (PMID:30297420)

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Real-world studies show that the facial expressions produced during pain and orgasm—two different and intense affective experiences— are virtually indistinguishable. However, this finding is counterintuitive, because facial expressions are widely considered to be a powerful tool for social interaction. Consequently, debate continues as to whether the facial expressions of these extreme positive and negative affective states serve a communicative function. Here, we address this debate from a novel angle by modeling the mental representations of dynamic facial expressions of pain and orgasm in 40 observers in each of two cultures (Western, East Asian) using a data-driven method. Using a complementary approach of machine learning, an information-theoretic analysis, and a human perceptual discrimination task, we show that mental representations of pain and orgasm are physically and perceptually distinct in each culture. Cross-cultural comparisons also revealed that pain is represented by similar face movements across cultures, whereas orgasm showed distinct cultural accents. Together, our data show that mental representations of the facial expressions of pain and orgasm are distinct, which questions their nondiagnosticity and instead suggests they could be used for communicative purposes. Our results also highlight the potential role of cultural and perceptual factors in shaping the mental representation of these facial expressions. We discuss new research directions to further explore their relationship to the production of facial expressions.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Garrod, Dr Oliver and Jack, Professor Rachael and Chen, Dr Chaona and Schyns, Professor Philippe
Authors: Chen, C., Crivelli, C., Garrod, O. G.B., Schyns, P. G., Fernandez-Dols, J.-M., and Jack, R. E.
College/School:College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > School of Psychology & Neuroscience
College of Science and Engineering > School of Psychology
Journal Name:Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Publisher:National Academy of Sciences
ISSN (Online):1091-6490
Published Online:08 October 2018
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2018 The Authors
First Published:First published in PNAS 115(43):E10013-E10021
Publisher Policy:Reproduced under a Creative Commons License

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Project CodeAward NoProject NamePrincipal InvestigatorFunder's NameFunder RefLead Dept
590701Mapping the Cultural Landscape of Emotions for Social InteractionRachael JackEconomic and Social Research Council (ESRC)ES/K001973/1S&E PSY - ADMINISTRATION
595751Mapping Cultural Differences in Facial Expressions of Emotion.Rachael JackBritish Academy (BRITACAD)SG113332PSY - PSYCHOLOGY
698281Brain Algorithmics: Reverse Engineering Dynamic Information Processing Networks from MEG time seriesPhilippe SchynsWellcome Trust (WELLCOTR)107802/Z/15/ZINP - CENTRE FOR COGNITIVE NEUROIMAGING
700661Visual Commonsense for Scene UnderstandingPhilippe SchynsEngineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)EP/N019261/1INP - CENTRE FOR COGNITIVE NEUROIMAGING