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posted by martyb on Saturday October 29 2016, @04:28PM   Printer-friendly
from the emoticon-showdown dept.

As we've seen in a recent story ("Customer Service Bots Are Getting Better at Detecting Your Agitation"), facial recognition software has moved beyond matching faces to trying to infer the emotional state of the face. At the heart of this effort is the assumption that, generally, facial expressions convey the same emotional state across cultures. Recent research shows this might not be the case.

In the 1960s, psychologist Paul Ekman came up with the method that has become the standard way to test this: present a collection of pictures of Westerners with different facial expressions to people living in isolated cultures and ask them what emotion was being conveyed. His research showed universality in understanding facial expressions across cultures. This has become an accepted axiom of this field ever since. However, in 2011, psychologists Carlos Crivelli and José-Miguel Fernández-Dols investigated the assumptions and methodology of the Ekman experiments. They traveled to the Trobriand Islands off the coast of Papua New Guinea and performed their own experiment using pictures of facial expressions.

Crivelli found that they matched smiling with happiness almost every time. Results for the other combinations were mixed, though. For example, the Trobrianders just couldn’t widely agree on which emotion a scowling face corresponded with. Some said this and some said that. It was the same with the nose-scrunching, pouting, and a neutral expression. There was one facial expression, though, that many of them did agree on: a wide-eyed, lips-parted gasping face (similar to above [link]) that Western cultures almost universally associate with fear and submission. The Trobrianders said it looked “angry.”

The work is being well received in the field, such as by social psychologist Alan Fridlund who noted that the researchers did an excellent job immersing themselves in the Trobriander culture before conducting the experiment.

Despite agreeing broadly with the study’s conclusions, Fridlund doubts it will sway hardliners convinced that emotions bubble forth from a common font. Ekman’s school of thought, for example, arose in the post–World War II era when people were seeking ideas that reinforced our common humanity, Fridlund says. “I think it will not change people’s minds. People have very deep reasons for adhering to either universality or cultural diversity.”

An abstract is available: The fear gasping face as a threat display in a Melanesian society.

[How might this affect Unicode's emoticons (i.e. code points starting at \U0001F600)? -Ed.]


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  • (Score: 2) by t-3 on Saturday October 29 2016, @05:32PM

    by t-3 (4907) on Saturday October 29 2016, @05:32PM (#420171) Journal

    I wuld have said surprise. Submission is much more of a body language thing, as well as fear, although that would show in the eyes too. It would be nice if we could see the actual pictures used though.

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  • (Score: 2) by RamiK on Saturday October 29 2016, @05:54PM

    by RamiK (1813) on Saturday October 29 2016, @05:54PM (#420182)

    Submission was likely a mistake in reference to Plutchik's wheel of emotions seeing how that "deer caught in the headlights" look covers awe and adjacent almost entirely.

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  • (Score: 2) by Arik on Saturday October 29 2016, @05:55PM

    by Arik (4543) on Saturday October 29 2016, @05:55PM (#420183) Journal
    Going by the link in TFA as to the face, although apparently it's not one that was actually used in the study?

    "I wuld have said surprise."

    Startled, alerted, something like that yeah.

    "Submission is much more of a body language thing"

    Precisely. If that face is accompanied by a hands-up posture, that would be submission. But if that same face was accompanied motions toward weapons, or with weapons, it would be very different.

    The 'wide eyes' indicate fear or surprise but those things do not necessarily lead to submission - they may very well trigger aggression instead.

    It also seems that while this can be an immediate and involuntary response to surprise, there's a slower semi-voluntary form of it as well, where you will see someones eyes go wide not in an instant, but over a longer period, a good fraction of a second, and while they may not be consciously aware of exactly what they are doing THAT is not a purely involuntary response either, you're watching them consciously classify a threat, or consciously broadcast to those around them that classification.

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