Psychology Lab Report Essay, Research Paper
Interpreting Facial Expressions:
A Cross-cultural and Developmental Study
Various illustrations of faces created by Hockney and Velazquez were shown to subjects who were required to decide which was the most effective of two semantic opposites which described the characters mental state. The study challenges notions suggesting that young children from approximately the age of eight years old are able to be interpret facial expressions. The study also questions attitudes and ideologies that facial expressions can be universally perceived and that differing cultures and nationalities play no major role in an individual s judgment. The results supported what previous works have proposed and demonstrate that children can understand the cognitive mental condition of a person through their facial expressions just as accurately as adults. Results regarding cross-cultural examinations also provided evidence that members of differing nationalities held very similar jugements of the several illustrations given to them throughout the study.
Reading mental states through facial expressions is an imperative factor in people s ability to socially interact and is preformed by individuals every day in all aspects of their lives. It is important to investigate whether adults of varying cultures as well as children are able to perceive a range of facial expression linked with mental conditions.
When considering whether facial recognition is culturally based or worldwide, a ongoing debate has existed. Previous studies propose that only a minor collection of facial expressions can be perceived universally with any consistency. Darwin (1872) suggested that each emotion constituted its own facial behaviour. La Barre, (as cited in Baron-Cohen etal, 1996) on the other hand argued There is no natural language of emotional gesture. However, evidence had returned back towards a modified universal arrangement since the late 1960 s. Ekman (1973, 1992) concluded that while not all mental conditions are associated with facial expressions which can be universally interpreted, a limit of six expressions disgust, happiness, anger, sadness, surprise and fear are universally recognizable. Numerous data, since the late 1960 s have provided strong evidence for the recognition of universal emotions being hard-wired in the human brain, therefore Darwin can be seen to be partially correct.
The study required classifying adults into the differing culture groups of Caucasian, Asian or other and children into the age groups of eight, nine, ten and eleven. The research strategy involved showing subjects illustrations of faces each revealing its own unique facial expression. Those subjects were given two opposite cognitive mental states of which the face expressed and were forced to choose the closest one of the two. Information regarding results from children subjects was taken from a previous study Read in the Mind in the Face.
The aim of the study was interested in testing whether the ability of judging facial expressions would vary in individuals depending on their cultural background. It was also concerned with examining the developmental ability of children to interpret facial expressions.
It was predicted that children would be able to perceive facial expressions almost as accurately as adults due to past research providing evidence that children develop these senses at a young age. Also expected was that the various cultural backgrounds of adults would hold little influence over their interpretations of facial expressions.
Among the 902 adult subjects, each was classified as either Caucasian totaling 747, Asian totaling 117, and all others totaling 38. These participants were psychology 100 students as well as other members of the community over the age of eighteen years which took part entirely voluntarily. Those 902 adults consisted of 602 females with an average age of 21.7 years old and 300 males averaging an age of 22.6 years.
Child participants comprised of 80 Caucasian subjects, aged between eight and eleven years of age. They were divided into four groups (eight, nine, ten and eleven) of 20 subjects each. All children were attending a state school of the South-East of England.
Subjects were presented with eleven illustrations of faces, some drawn and some painted. Six illustrations were the artwork of seventeenth century Spanish artist Velazquez and five were by contemporary British artist Hockney. Each of the eleven pictures were reproduced and presented to the subjects in a black and white version. The pictures were displayed through a projector screen or shown on paper. Each of the eleven faces were connected with an opposite pair of words describing the mental state of the character.
Subjects were presented with each of the eleven faces one at a time and with each the subject was read aloud a pair of words and asked which of these was the closest to describing the persons mental state, that is, what the person is thinking or feeling. In order to overcome any unwillingness which subjects may experience when judging the state of someone else s mind, a forced choice procedure was devised.
The word pairs were initially put together by three authors, Simon Baron-Cohen, Angel Riviere and Pippa Cross, of who conducted a previous investigation Reading the Mind in the Face. The authors decided on one mental state of mind that they considered possible and then generated a semantic opposite to make up the pair. The presentation of the pictures was randomized as was the word arrangement in order to avoid any sequencing effects.
Child participants had a comprehension control question which intended to make certain that a subject had failed interpreting the mental state of a facial expression, rather than experienced a verbal comprehension problem. This involved asking the child to explain what the word which they dismissed as being wrong meant, using a question which related to their own experience. A easier pair of words was given as a second chance to any child who failed this comprehension control test.
Concerning the cultural diversity of adult subjects, the average numbers of accurate interpretations are revealed in Figure 1. As indicated by the graph there are almost no apparent differences and across all the nationalities the mean correct judgements exceeded eight from a possibility of eleven. The standard deviation of correct interpretations by the three cultures vary slightly with Caucasian subjects being the most stable with 1.42. Although there is not much difference once again, the standard deviation of Asian adults is 1.73 and other nationalities is 1.92.
Figure 1. Mean number of correct interpretations by adults.
Regarding child subjects it can be seen that for all four age groups the average amount of accurate judgements was above nine out of a maximum of eleven. These mean scores are shown in Figure 2. The standard deviation of correct interpretations by the four age groups worked out extremely similar with children aged eight, nine and ten all having a standard deviation of 1.0, and 0.7 for eleven year olds.
Figure 2. Mean number of correct interpretations by children.
With reference to the developmental ability of children to interpret facial expressions, the number of correct judgements of Caucasian adults compared to those of all the child participants is exposed in Figure 3. As shown the 80 children preformed slightly better than the adults and had an average of 9.53 accurate judgements, while Caucasian adult subjects recognizing an average of 9.19 facial expressions correct.
Figure 3. Mean number of correct interpretations of Caucasians.
This study set out to investigate whether a broad collection of mental conditions are recognized universally as well testing if children have developed the ability to interpret facial expressions from the age of eight to eleven. It was predicted that child subjects should possess the potential to perceive facial information almost as accurately as adults. Evidence from past research also suggested that most. But not all, mental states are correlated with facial behaviours recognizable worldwide.
Results from the study supported these two predictions reasonably strongly. In actual fact, children averaged more correct responses than adult subjects of the same culture. This suggests that children by the age of eight years old have developed the ability to interpret facial expressions. The results for child participants from the ages of eight to eleven all remained very similar which puts forward that children have almost finished developing in this aspect. Expectations were that the ability to perceive facial expressions by individuals from differing cultures would not extend further than the recognition of a restricted set of basic mental conditions. This claim was not supported and results point toward a situation where by adults of all nationalities interpreted an average of more than eight facial expressions from a possible eleven, therefore suggesting that adults have a considerable capability for perceiving a universal range of mental states in the face.
The study supported the majority of findings from past research, however, there was a significant regularity in how subjects from three diverse culture groups interpreted a wide set of cognitive mental states. This may convey the issue of a world rapidly becoming more industrialized and establishing greater communications throughout the world via television and internet for example. Past evidence has proposed that children have the ability to perceive facial expressions to a certain extent, this was supported and the study also demonstrated that children are adept in making these judgements from a young age. This my be due to evolution and a faster development experienced by children to adapt to a changing world.
The research strategy did consist of various flaws which could be put down to a lack of resources and time. The quality of the reproductions of the illustrations of the eleven faces may have contributed to some inability to judge the mental state to the subjects best ability. Females made up over one third of the total participants which could have lead to a sexist perception. Also participants tested by psychology 100 students may not be reliable subjects, therefore this failure to conduct the investigation in a controlled environment could effect the dependability of results.
Further and more in depth research, such as testing people from a non-industrialized culture, can most definitely be considered as an important investigation of the every day use of our understanding of a person s thought from their face. As supported by this study, our importance and reliance on this ability to interpret facial expressions is reflected by the effective and consistent accuracy of children from young ages and adults from diverse cultural backgrounds.
Baron-Cohen,S.,Riviere,A.,Fukushima,M.,Frenah,D.,Hadwin,I., Cross,P.,Bryant,C.,Soyillo,M.(1996). Reading the Mind in the Face: A Cross-cultural and Developmental Study. Visual Cognition. 1996,3(1), 39-59.