Facial expressions, perceived as the ‘universal language of emotions’, can lead to misinterpretation as they are viewed in different ways by different cultures, says a new study.
The study found that the Chinese participants relied on the eyes more to represent facial expressions, while Caucasians relied on the eyebrows and mouth.
“By conducting this study, we hoped to show that people from different cultures think about facial expressions in different ways,” said Rachael E. Jack, University of Glasgow, who led the study.
“East Asians and Western Caucasians differ in terms of the features they think constitute an angry face or a happy face,” added Jack, reports the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.
“Our findings highlight the importance of understanding cultural differences in communication, which is particularly relevant in our increasingly connected world,” Jack said, according to a Glasgow statement.
The study was co-authored by Philippe Schyns at Glasgow and Roberto Caldara, psychology professor at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland.
“A mental representation of a facial expression is the image we see in our ‘mind’s eye’ when we think about what a fearful or happy face looks like,” Jack said.
“Mental representations are shaped by our past experiences and help us know what to expect when we are interpreting facial expressions,” he added.
Participants viewed emotion-neutral faces that were altered on a computer screen and then categorised them as happy, sad, surprised, fearful, disgusted or angry.
The responses allowed researchers to identify the expressive facial features that participants associated with each emotion.