Recognition of facial expressions is not universal

Jan 26, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Caucasians and Asians don't examine faces in the same way, according to new research. PhD student Caroline Blais, of the Université de Montréal Department of Psychology, has published two studies on the subject: one in Current Biology and the other in PLoS One.

Previous studies have shown that people collect information by mostly studying the eyes as well as the of a face. "The problem is that these studies always used Caucasian test subjects," says Blais.

Questioning the universality of facial recognition began after studies showed that Asians study in an overall fashion, while Caucasians break down faces into distinct parts.

Blais used a camera designed to track eye movements to study 14 Caucasian and 14 Asian participants. As part of the experiment, subjects were shown 112 Caucasian and Asian faces and asked to report if they had seen the face before and to name the dominating trait. The study confirmed that Caucasians study the triangle of the eyes and mouth, while Asians focus on the nose.

Caucasian and Asian subjects excelled at recognizing someone of their race, yet both had the same level of difficulty in identifying someone of another ethnic group. According to Blais, this says more about the analytical approach of and the holistic approach of Asians.

In a second experiment, test subjects had to pinpoint an emotion: surprise, fear, disgust or joy. Asians mostly focused on the eyes and not enough on the mouth, which meant some emotions were wrongly identified.

"Asians had particular problems with negative emotions. They confused fear and surprise as well as disgust and anger," says Blais. "This is because they avoided looking at the mouth which provides a lot of information about these emotions."

Cultural or biological causes, Blais says, might explain why humans don't read faces in a universal fashion.

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User comments : 7

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NonRational
not rated yet Jan 26, 2010
Why do they not go into more detail about why Caucasians approach is analytical and Asian approach is holistic?
tpb
not rated yet Jan 26, 2010
Quote:
Caucasian and Asian subjects excelled at recognizing someone of their race, yet both had the same level of difficulty in identifying someone of another ethnic group. According to Blais, this says more about the analytical approach of Caucasians and the holistic approach of Asians.

Since both groups perform equally good and bad, it says nothing about the different approaches to facial recognition.
Rohitasch
not rated yet Jan 26, 2010
Holy crap! That is it! I have three foreign neighbours: 2 American and one Aussie. I've tried to start a conversation with them a number of times but I find their body language difficult to decipher and have to think about it later to figure out what was going on. Their expressions seem rather off to what I'd expect and that is really confusing so I've never actually managed to exchange more than a few words.
It always felt rather odd, like, "What was that about?"
This research means that they'd be finding my South-Asian expressions just as tangential. To add to it, there must also be a feedback of expressions. No wonder! Wow!
Ramael
not rated yet Jan 26, 2010
Quote:

Since both groups perform equally good and bad, it says nothing about the different approaches to facial recognition.


Your statement is wrong. Each group utilizes separate methods, and is successful at their method when recognizing their own race.
MadMikeScott
not rated yet Jan 26, 2010
now test both groups no black people and people from the south of the sub continent, and maybe some New World indians
tpb
not rated yet Jan 26, 2010
Ramael, if each group uses "different methods" and gets the "same results", then this study is meaningless.
Drcandanesin
not rated yet Jan 27, 2010
When you look at the article, we see that the voluteer participants are at a mean age of 23-24.And they are chinese and japan in origin. This shows that their birth dates are around 1985, where the mothers were engaged in economic survival and still under the effect of cultural child bearing styles. For infantile period, emotional attachment to mother can not be focused on eyes or mouth but to total face. Therefore the first emotional knowledge and impressions of an infant is coming from the total face and nose is the central area to focus for the total face at once. Infant has to focus on total face to learn emotions because mother is not emotionally dedicated to child as European mothers do. The sduty has to be repeated with the childs born in 2000s.

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