September 2015
Volume 15, Issue 12
Vision Sciences Society Annual Meeting Abstract  |   September 2015
Cultural similarities and differences in processing facial expressions of basic emotions
Author Affiliations
  • Xiaoqian Yan
    Department of Psychology, University of York
  • Andy Young
    Department of Psychology, University of York
  • Timothy Andrews
    Department of Psychology, University of York
Journal of Vision September 2015, Vol.15, 930. doi:
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      Xiaoqian Yan, Andy Young, Timothy Andrews; Cultural similarities and differences in processing facial expressions of basic emotions. Journal of Vision 2015;15(12):930.

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      © ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)

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The ability to recognize facial expressions of basic emotions is often considered a universal human ability. However, recent studies have suggested that the commonality of recognition mechanisms across cultures has been overestimated and that people from different cultures (Western and Chinese) use information from different regions of face to internally represent expressions (Jack et al., 2009; Jack et al., 2012). We investigated this possibility by systematically examining cultural similarities and differences in the perception and categorization of facial expressions between participants from Chinese and British cultures. The perceptual task involved rating the degree of similarity between pictures of facial expressions of same or different emotions, and the categorization task involved forced-choice recognition of emotion from the same images. Our results showed no difference in perception of images of whole faces between British and Chinese participants, but both groups of participants were slightly more accurate overall at categorizing expressions shown on faces of their own ethnic group. To further investigate potential strategy differences we repeated the tasks but with presentation of only the upper (eyes and forehead) or lower (mouth and chin) half of each face. Again, perception of facial expressions was similar between the Chinese and British groups, and this held for upper and lower face regions. However, participants were better at categorizing facial expressions shown by members of their own ethnic group when only the lower halves of the faces were visible to them, indicating that the way culture shapes the categorization of facial expressions is largely driven by differences in information decoding from this part of the face. These findings clarify the way in which culture can influence the interpretation of facial expressions.

Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2015


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