Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Sixteen facial expressions occur in similar contexts worldwide .

I want to pass on this article by Cowen et al., which was the subject of a comment made on my December 2 post "Emotions are constructed, and are not universal." Here is the abstract:
Understanding the degree to which human facial expressions co-vary with specific social contexts across cultures is central to the theory that emotions enable adaptive responses to important challenges and opportunities. Concrete evidence linking social context to specific facial expressions is sparse and is largely based on survey-based approaches, which are often constrained by language and small sample sizes. Here, by applying machine-learning methods to real-world, dynamic behaviour, we ascertain whether naturalistic social contexts (for example, weddings or sporting competitions) are associated with specific facial expressions14 across different cultures. In two experiments using deep neural networks, we examined the extent to which 16 types of facial expression occurred systematically in thousands of contexts in 6 million videos from 144 countries. We found that each kind of facial expression had distinct associations with a set of contexts that were 70% preserved across 12 world regions. Consistent with these associations, regions varied in how frequently different facial expressions were produced as a function of which contexts were most salient. Our results reveal fine-grained patterns in human facial expressions that are preserved across the modern world.
Here is one fragment from the main text of the article:
Specific contexts including fireworks, weddings and sporting competitions are reliably and differentially associated with 16 patterns of dynamic facial expression, such as those often labelled awe, contentment and triumph by English speakers, in a similar manner across world regions. In total, 70% of the variance in the context–expression association was found to be preserved in all 12 world regions that we examined. In revealing universals in expressive behaviour throughout the modern world, our findings directly inform the origins, functions and universality of emotion.
It is important to note that the authors were careful to point out that these studies were done on behaviors throughout "the modern world" and used emotion categories defined in English. The results do not in fact contradict the assertions of Barrett that emotions do not have universal facial fingerprints, if data from the non-modern world of isolated tribes is taken into account. (see my post on chapter 3 of her book "Emotions are not universal")

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