August 19, 2009

East vs. West differences in facial expressions

Related podcast in Scientific American: Facial Expressions: East Doesn't Meet West

Current Biology, doi:10.1016/j.cub.2009.07.051

Cultural Confusions Show that Facial Expressions Are Not Universal

Rachael E. Jack


Central to all human interaction is the mutual understanding of emotions, achieved primarily by a set of biologically rooted social signals evolved for this purposefacial expressions of emotion. Although facial expressions are widely considered to be the universal language of emotion [1,2,3], some negative facial expressions consistently elicit lower recognition levels among Eastern compared to Western groups (see [4] for a meta-analysis and [5,6] for review). Here, focusing on the decoding of facial expression signals, we merge behavioral and computational analyses with novel spatiotemporal analyses of eye movements, showing that Eastern observers use a culture-specific decoding strategy that is inadequate to reliably distinguish universal facial expressions of fear and disgust. Rather than distributing their fixations evenly across the face as Westerners do, Eastern observers persistently fixate the eye region. Using a model information sampler, we demonstrate that by persistently fixating the eyes, Eastern observers sample ambiguous information, thus causing significant confusion. Our results question the universality of human facial expressions of emotion, highlighting their true complexity, with critical consequences for cross-cultural communication and globalization.


1 comment:

Unknown said...

I like this blog but its publications like these that are vague & rather Eurocentric. This is absolutely ridiculous & unfactual to distinguish on such a shallow level. I don't see why "the west" is held the default status quo, the centre of all that is out there VERSUS everything else, lumped together whether its Chinese, Indian, Filipino, Pakistani or Tajik. This self-centered attitude is getting really old. One cannot even define what's Eastern & Western - its all conceived by the media, academia & political realms. Every culture is unique. A Sudanese is not the same as a Nigerian just as a Korean is not the same as a Malaysian. Likewise, a Belgian is not the same as a Greek just as a Finnish person is not the same as a Frechman.