Detecting and categorizing fleeting emotions in faces

Timothy D. Sweeny*, Satoru Suzuki, Marcia Grabowecky, Ken A. Paller

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

22 Scopus citations

Abstract

Expressions of emotion are often brief, providing only fleeting images from which to base important social judgments. We sought to characterize the sensitivity and mechanisms of emotion detection and expression categorization when exposure to faces is very brief, and to determine whether these processes dissociate. Observers viewed 2 backward-masked facial expressions in quick succession, 1 neutral and the other emotional (happy, fearful, or angry), in a 2-interval forced-choice task. On each trial, observers attempted to detect the emotional expression (emotion detection) and to classify the expression (expression categorization). Above-chance emotion detection was possible with extremely brief exposures of 10 ms and was most accurate for happy expressions. We compared categorization among expressions using a d= analysis, and found that categorization was usually above chance for angry versus happy and fearful versus happy, but consistently poor for fearful versus angry expressions. Fearful versus angry categorization was poor even when only negative emotions (fearful, angry, or disgusted) were used, suggesting that this categorization is poor independent of decision context. Inverting faces impaired angry versus happy categorization, but not emotion detection, suggesting that information from facial features is used differently for emotion detection and expression categorizations. Emotion detection often occurred without expression categorization, and expression categorization sometimes occurred without emotion detection. These results are consistent with the notion that emotion detection and expression categorization involve separate mechanisms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)76-91
Number of pages16
JournalEmotion
Volume13
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - 2013

Keywords

  • Awareness
  • Emotion detection
  • Expression categorization
  • Face processing
  • Face-inversion effect

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)

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