Facial expressions of emotion are not culturally universal

Jack, R.E. , Garrod, O.G.B., Yu, H., Caldara, R. and Schyns, P.G. (2012) Facial expressions of emotion are not culturally universal. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 109(19), pp. 7241-7244. (doi: 10.1073/pnas.1200155109)

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Publisher's URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1200155109


Since Darwin’s seminal works, the universality of facial expressions of emotion has remained one of the longest standing debates in the biological and social sciences. Briefly stated, the universality hypothesis claims that all humans communicate six basic internal emotional states (happy, surprise, fear, disgust, anger, and sad) using the same facial movements by virtue of their biological and evolutionary origins [Susskind JM, et al. (2008) Nat Neurosci 11:843–850]. Here, we refute this assumed universality. Using a unique computer graphics platform that combines generative grammars [Chomsky N (1965) MIT Press, Cambridge, MA] with visual perception, we accessed the mind’s eye of 30 Western and Eastern culture individuals and reconstructed their mental representations of the six basic facial expressions of emotion. Cross-cultural comparisons of the mental representations challenge universality on two separate counts. First, whereas Westerners represent each of the six basic emotions with a distinct set of facial movements common to the group, Easterners do not. Second, Easterners represent emotional intensity with distinctive dynamic eye activity. By refuting the long-standing universality hypothesis, our data highlight the powerful influence of culture on shaping basic behaviors once considered biologically hardwired. Consequently, our data open a unique nature–nurture debate across broad fields from evolutionary psychology and social neuroscience to social networking via digital avatars.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Garrod, Dr Oliver and Caldara, Professor Roberto and Yu, Mr Hui and Jack, Professor Rachael and Schyns, Professor Philippe
Authors: Jack, R.E., Garrod, O.G.B., Yu, H., Caldara, R., and Schyns, P.G.
College/School:College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > School of Psychology & Neuroscience
Journal Name:Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
ISSN (Online):1091-6490
Published Online:16 April 2012

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