Motivation and emotion/Textbook/Emotion/Emotional expression

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Emotional expression[edit]

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The History of Emotional Expression[edit]

"The expression a woman wears on her face is far more important than the clothes she wears on her back." Dale Carnegie

The way in which individuals can, and do, express themselves emotionally is a phenomenon that has deep historical roots (Russell, Bachorowski, & Fernandez-Dols, 2003) with the importance of emotional expression being well documented as a result (Scherer & Ellgring, 2007). One of the first traditional assumptions of emotional expression was the suggestion that expressions of emotion were a God-given and universal language that was developed to reveal an individual’s passion, virtues, and vices (Russell, Bachorowski, & Fernandez-Dols). Having received a consensus of support, this hypothesis of emotional expression has since been incorporated into many philosophical, religious, and artistic theories from ancient times through to the nineteenth century (Montagu, 1994, cited in Russell, Bachorowski, & Fernandez-Dols). Further, this traditional assumption of emotional expression has also appeared in later works that were conducted by anatomists, physiologists, and other scientists, including the work of Charles Darwin (1872, cited in Russell, Bachorowski, & Fernandez-Dols). With focus on Darwin’s work, Darwin argued that, although relying on the traditional assumptions of emotional expression, emotional expression was the result of natural selection, not God-given (Russell, Bachorowski, & Fernandez-Dols). Further, in an attempt to support his argument for the substitution, Darwin conducted important observational studies that examined cross-species and cross-cultural similarities in emotional expression (Russell, Bachorowski, & Fernandez-Dols). It has been suggested that results of these studies did support the substitution (Russell, Bachorowski, & Fernandez-Dols). Further, in regard to facial expression analysis, Darwin demonstrated the universality off facial expressions and their continuity in both humans and animals. He also claimed, amongst other things, that individuals have specific inborn emotions, which originated in serviceable associated habits (Fasel & Luettin, 2003).

It was not until 1962 that an additional theory of emotional expression was proposed by Sylvan Tomkins and advances were made to the traditional assumptions of emotional expression (Russell, Bachorowski, & Fernandez-Dols, 2003). Similar to Darwin (1872), Tomkins (1962) theory of emotional expression perpetuated many of the traditional assumptions about emotional expression (Russell, Bachorowski, & Fernandez-Dols). However, Tomkins further suggested that individuals have a fixed number of discrete emotions that can and will vary in levels of intensity (Russell, Bachorowski, & Fernandez-Dols). Further, according to Tomkins theory, each discrete emotion consists of a single brain process that produces all the various manifestations of emotion, including facial and vocal expression (Russell, Bachorowski, & Fernandez-Dols).

Furthermore, in 1971, Ekman and Friesen (1971, cited in Fasel & Luettin, 2003) developed the hypothesis that individuals have six primary emotions, each that were said to possess a distinctive content together with a unique facial expression. Further, it was also stated that these six primary emotions and the emotional displays that come with them, are universal across all human ethnicities and cultures and comprise happiness, sadness, fear, disgust, surprise, and anger (Fasel & Luettin). Moreover, modern evolutionary theories of emotional expression have been developed that place emphasis on the idea of natural selection, the interests of the individual, adaption and function (Dawkins & Krebs 1978; Fridlund 1994; Owren &Rendall 2001, cited in Russell, Bachorowski, & Fernandez-Dols, 2003). Moreover, as stated by Russell, Bachorowski and Fernandez-Dols, modern theories have suggested that emotional expression is a multicomponent dynamic processes that is laced with cognition (Scherer, 2001; Smith & Kirby, 2001) that provides a looser, more flexible and context-dependent relation among the components of emotional expression (Bradley & Lang, 2000b).

Further to this, a fundamental recognition that has been made in these modern theories of emotional expression is the idea that, rather than Individuals broadcasting their emotional expressions to all other individuals, individuals will express their emotions in a way that will be directed at an intended receiver in an attempt to influence that receiver in ways that are beneficial to them (Russell, Bachorowski, & Fernandez-Dols, 2003).

A second fundamental recognition that has been made in regard to emotional expression is the suggestion that a receiver does not simply decode the message of a sender in a reflex like manner (Russell, Bachorowski, & Fernandez-Dols, 2003). Rather, it is suggested that a variety of effects can occur (Russell, Bachorowski, & Fernandez-Dols). To elaborate, Russell, Bachorowski, and Fernandez-Dols suggest that vocal stimuli has the ability to capture the receivers attention and alter their affective state without any emotion being encoded or decoded (Owren et al, 2002, cited in Russell, Bachorowski, & Fernandez-Dols).

Emotional Expression- A Social Cognition[edit]

Social cognition can be defined as an individual’s ability to interpret and predict the behaviour of other individuals, as well as interact in complex social environments and relationships (Baron-Cohen et al., 2000, cited in Keightley, Chiew, Winocur, & Grady, 2007). Further, an individual’s ability to comprehend and respond to the emotional content and cues that are present in the environment as well as their ability to remember this emotional content are stated as integral parts of social cognition ( Grady & Keightley, 2002; Adolphs, 2003, cited in Keightley et al.). With focus on the emotional content and cues that are present in an individual’s environment, it is stated that individuals will express their emotions through signs in their face, voice, gestures, and bodily posture (Scherer & Ellgring, 2007). With particular focus on an individual’s face and voice, it is stated that the changes that occur in an individual’s face and voice are essential aspects of human social interaction (Russell, Bachorowski, & Fernandez-Dols, 2003). Further, it is often suggested that individuals who lack such aspects in their social interactions could be considered to be suffering from a mental illness, as this is one of several indicators (Russell, Bachorowski, & Fernandez-Dols).

Furthermore, it has been stated that facial expressions are important as a part of non-verbal communication that is used in everyday life (Batty & Taylor, 2003). Facial expressions are complex stimuli that have the ability to convey an individual’s identity, as well as their emotional state (4). They provide individuals with a means of communication that are more rapid than language, that give people the ability to quickly infer the state of mind of their companions (Batty & Taylor). Further, it is suggested that a person’s ability to perceive and differentiate between another person’s facial expressions is vital for successful social communication, as well as survival (Hadj-Bouziane, Bell, Knusten, Ungerleider, & Tootell, 2008; Jiang, & He, 2006). Further to this, changes in the emotional expressions of individuals are believed to be informative as individuals can use this information to judge others’ attitudes, regulate others’ emotions and to guide social interaction (Salovey & Mayer, 1990, cited in Niedenthal, Brauer, Halberstadt, Innes-Ker, 2001). Moreover, it is also suggested that facial expressions allow an individual to easily understand the opinions and attitudes of others, thus providing a powerful tool in social coordination (Batty & Taylor).

Facial Expressions and the Brain[edit]

As previously mentioned, Ekman and Friesen (1971) proposed that individuals have six primary, or basic, emotions, each that possess a distinctive content together with a unique facial expression (Fasel & Luettin, 2003). These basic emotions consist of happiness, sadness, fear, disgust, surprise, and anger (Fasel & Luettin; Batty & Taylor, 2003; Keightley et al., 2007). Moreover, several research studies have been conducted to assess if there are different brain processes involved in the processing of these six basic emotions and the way they are expressed by individuals. Further, it has been hypothesised that different neural mechanisms may be important depending on the particular facial expression that is being displayed and processed (Phelps, 2006; Jiang & He, 2006). Although, it is has also been suggested that these brain regions should not be thought to be specialized for recognizing a specific facial expression, but rather should be thought to have a more general role in the processing of different emotions . To elaborate, due to the results of several brain imaging studies, it has firstly been suggested that some regions of the fusiform gyrus are specialized for the recognition of facial identity ( Kanwisher et al., 1997, cited in Phelps). Further, it has also been suggested that the amygdala is a critical component of a network of regions that are involved in social cognition, particularly for the processing of emotions in facial expressions ( Gobbini & Haxby, 2007, cited in Keightley et al., 2007) and lesions to the amygdale will commonly disrupt this ability in effected individuals (Adolphs et al., 1994, 1999; Anderson & Phelps, 2000, cited in Keightley et al). Moreover, several studies have concluded that an individual’s amygdala will become highly active when negative facial expressions are viewed, particularly fear (Breiter et al., 1999; Morris et al., 1996; Whalen et al., 1998b; Blair et al., 1999, Pessoa et al., 2002; Anderson et al., 2003, cited in Keightley et al). This suggestion is supported by research that has been conducted on patients suffering from amygdale damage. Results of these studies demonstrated that individuals with amygdale damage commonly experience impairments in their ability to identify the intensity of fear in any facial expressions they viewed (Adolph et al., 1999, cited in Phelps). However, these individuals are still able to generate normal facial expressions of fear (Anderson & Phelps, 2000) but consistently rate expressions of fear in others as less fearful than do participating individuals with no amygdale damage (Phelps).

Furthermore, several studies have also suggested that the amygdala is involved in the processing of sad faces (Blair, Morris, Frith, Perrett, Dolan, 1999; Schneider, Habel, Kessler, Salloum, & Posse, cited in Batty & Taylor, 2003). Additionally, several studies have also demonstrated that positive facial expressions, such as happy facial expressions, activate the cingulated sulcus in the individual’s brain (Kesler-West, Andersen, Smith, Avison, & Mapp, 2000; Davis, R.J. Kryscio et al, 39, cited in Batty & Taylor), and negative facial expressions, such as angry faces, are processes by the orbital frontal regions of the brain (Blair et al., cited in Batty & Taylor), with the basal ganglia also playing a role in the recognition of anger (Phelps). Lastly, it appears that facial expressions that portray disgust activate the basal ganglia and insular cortex area of the brain when present in social and non-social stimuli (Cohen, Minor, Najolia, & Lee Hong, 2009; Phelps).

The Recognition of Facial Expressions[edit]

Given the evidence that suggests that different neural mechanisms may underlie the recognition of facial expressions, it is almost predictable that it would be suggest that different types of information are necessary to make judgements about these facial expressions (Phelps, 2006). For example, two studies that have investigated the amygdalas role in an individual’s ability to identify fearful facial expressions have revealed that an individual’s ability to recognize fear in facial stimuli depends critically on the specific configuration of the different facial features of the individuals face (Phelps). To elaborate, it has been suggested that any subtle changes that occur in the configuration of an individual’s face, such as altering the distance between the eyes and mouth, can significantly impair an individual’s ability to recognize the correct facial expression (Phelps). Additionally, results of other studies have revealed that an individual’s ability to recognize fear from facial stimuli seems to depend critically on a single facial feature, that is, the eyes (Phelps).

Furthermore, Adolphs et al. (2005a) used a technique that helped to identify which aspects of a face are most important when recognizing facial expressions (Phelps, 2006). Consistent with previous imaging results (Whalen et al., 2004) an individual’s ability to identify fear in facial expression depends critically on the eyes (Phelps). Moreover, their research examined the eye movement that was involved when an individual was asked to recognise fear in a facial expression (Phelps). Participants consisted of individuals with bilateral damage to the amygdale, with the control group consisting of individuals with no bilateral damage to their amygdale. Results revealed that individuals with no bilateral damage predominately fixated on the eyes (Phelps). Further to this, participants with bilateral damage to the amygdale showed a different pattern of eye movements, which suggests that they rely on different aspects of the face to identify fear (Phelps). However, when these participants were instructed to remain fixated on the eyes, their ability to recognise fear in facial expressions improved to the levels demonstrated by individuals with no bilateral damage (Phelps). However, they failed to adopt this strategy when not given the instructions to do so (Phelps). These results demonstrate that the amygdale not only responds preferentially to the eyes in facial stimuli, but may also be involved in generating behaviours that aid in the identification of facial expressions of fear (Phelps).

Facial Feedback Hypothesis[edit]

The facial feedback hypothesis (FFH) is the assumption that the feedback an individual receives from another person’s facial behaviour, otherwise known as facial expressions, that is then transformed into conscious awareness, constitutes the experience of emotion (Liard, 1974, Tomkins, 1962, 1963, cited in Reeve, 2009). Further to this, there are two testable versions of the FFH, that is, the strong version and the weak version (McIntosh, 1996; Rutledge & Hupke, 1985, cited in Reeve). As these two testable versions exist, research on the validity of the FFH has used two different methodologies (Reeve). To elaborate, the strong version of the FFH proposes that if an individual manipulates their facial musculature into a pattern that corresponds to an emotional display, the emotion that is displayed will activate that emotional experience in the individual (Reeve). For example, Reeve suggests that if an individual is instructed to manipulate their facial musculature so that their eyebrows become raised and pulled together, their upper eyelids also become raised and their lips are stretched horizontally back towards your ears, and were then instructed to complete a questionnaire that assessed their emotional state, it would be suspected that fear would become activated in their emotional experience and their responses would support this.

Moreover, the weaker and more conservative version of the FFH, that has also received a consensus of support, proposes that an individual’s facial feedback modifies the intensity of the emotion, not causes it (Reeve, 2009). Further, this version suggests that an individual’s particular facial musculature display will help to exaggerate an emotional experience (Reeve). However, it will not necessarily activate the emotional experience as suggested by the stronger version of the FFH (Reeve). To elaborate, if an individual intentionally produces a smile when they are already experiencing feelings of happiness, then they will feel more intense happiness (Reeve). This is supported by a study that was conducted to assess the validity of this version of the FFH (Reeve). In this study, participating individuals were required to either exaggerate or suppress the spontaneous facial expressions they produce while watching a video, which depicted either a pleasant, neutral, or unpleasant scenario (Zuckerman, Klorman, Larrance, & Spiegal, 1981, cited in Reeve). Results of this study supported this suggestion as participants demonstrated an exaggerated emotional and psychological experience when instructed to exaggerate their naturally occurring facial expressions (Reeve). Alternatively, participants demonstrated a softened emotional and psychological experience when instructed to suppress their naturally occurring facial expressions (Lanzetta, Cartwright-Smith, & Kleck, 1976, Reeve).

Cultural Differences in Facial Emotion[edit]

Multiple research studies have been conducted in an attempt identify if there is a proposition that human beings display similar facial expressions regardless of any cultural differences that may be present (Ekman, 1972, 1994b; Izard, 1994, cited in Reeves, 2009). In each of these studies, participants that were diverse in their nationalities reviewed three photographs, each which displayed a different facial expression from the last (Ekman, 1972, 1993; Ekman & Friesen, 1971: Ekman, Sorenson, & Friesen, 1969, Izard, 1971, 1980, 1994, cited in Reeves). Once all photographs had been viewed, all participants were then instructed to select the photograph that they believed expressed a particular emotion (Reeve). This was done through a multiple choice format (Reeve). For example, participants reviewed three photographs of three different faces, one that expressed anger, one that expressed joy, and one that expressed fear (Reeve). Participants were instructed to select the photograph that they believed best demonstrated what a face would look like when they encountered a specified emotion, such as anger (Reeve). Results of this study revealed that individuals matched the same facial expressions with the same emotions regardless of their cultures, thus providing evidence that facial emotion is cross-culturally universal (Ekman, 1994b; Ekman & Friesen, 1971; Izard, 1971, cited in Reeve). This is also evidence that emotional related facial behaviour has an innate unlearned component (Reeve).

Age Related Differences in Perceiving Emotion[edit]

The idea that age can affect an individual’s social cognition has also received considerable attention in recent years, particularly the effect of age on perceiving emotions in faces (Keightley et al., 2007). As a result, many studies have been conducted to assess if any age related differences exist in regard to the recognition of facial expressions (Keightley). For example, Keightley et al. conducted a study that used Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to explore the brain activity of younger and older adults while they reviewed and labelled faces that expressed different emotions as well as neutral expressions. Similar to the results of a study conducted by McDowell et al. (1994), results demonstrated that older adults experienced significantly greater difficulty in the task of identifying negative and neutral facial expressions such as those of sadness, anger, and disgust compared to younger adults (Keightley). Further, there were no significant findings that indicated age related differences in regard to identifying expressions of happiness (Keightley). Additionally, the functional neuroimaging data that was obtained in this study revealed that both younger and older adults recruit a different pattern of activity when distinguishing certain facial expressions (Keightley). To elaborate, results demonstrated that older adults have increased activity in their ventromedial prefrontal cortex, lingual gyrus and premotor cortex when distinguishing happy expressions, whereas younger adults recruited a more widely distributed set of regions which included the amygdala, ventromedial prefrontal cortex, lateral prefrontal regions and bilateral inferior and superior temporal areas (Keightley). Conversely, younger adults demonstrated an increase in activity in their dorsal anterior cingulated when distinguishing other types of facial expressions, whereas older adults had more activity in their dorsal cingulated, as well as their middle and inferior frontal gyri, somatosensory cortex, insula, and middle temporal regions (Keightley). These results indicate that there are possible age related differences in the cognitive strategies that are employed by individuals of different ages during the identification of facial expressions (Keightley).

Emotional Suppression- The Consequences[edit]

Few studies have been conducted that have assessed the impact of suppression on participants’ emotional experience and several consequences have been suggested (Niedenthal, Krauth-Gruber, & Ric, 2006). Firstly, McCanne and Anderson (1987) conducted a study that demonstrated that individuals who suppress their emotional experience can impair their capacity to feel any corresponding emotions (Niedenthal, Krauth-Gruber, & Ric). Further, based on the research results of Gross and Levenson (1997), it has also been suggested that, although suppression has been found to reduce facial expressions of positive and negative emotions, suppression does not completely inhibit it (Niedenthal, Krauth-Gruber, & Ric). Moreover, research results seem to indicate that suppression of emotional experience can reduce the experience of positive emotions in an individual but will not reduce the experience of negative emotions (Niedenthal, Krauth-Gruber, & Ric).

Vocal Emotional Expression[edit]

A significant amount of theoretical and empirical research has also been conducted concerning the production of and response of vocal expressions of emotion in the past decade (Cohen, Minor, Najolia, & Lee Hong, 2009). Further, it is suggested that vocal expressions provide an attractive medium for understanding emotional expression as it also contains a wealth of information (Russell, Bachorowski, & Fernandez-Dols, 2003). Moreover, it is suggested that this information can be conveyed across multiple domains, including those in prosodic and content channels (Cohen et al.). To elaborate, prosodic channels involve the nonverbal aspects of spoken communication, such as intensity, speech rate, and fundamental frequency and can be measured through acoustic analysis of the communications physical properties (Schirmer, Striano, & Friederici, 2005). Further to this, a specific profile of these parameters is believed to be indicative of a specific emotion (Schirmer, Striano, & Friederici). For example, it is suggested that anger can be characterised by a relatively high intensity, speech rate and fundamental frequency whereas sadness is characterised by low intensity, speech rate and fundamental frequency (Banse R, Scherer, 1996, cited in Schirmer, Striano, & Friederici). Conversely, content channels involve the semantic aspects of communication, which are assessed using a variety of content- analytic procedures (Russell, Bachorowski, & Fernandez-Dols, 2003).

Key terms[edit]

  • Social Cognition
  • Facial Expressions
  • Fusiform Gyrus
  • Amygdala
  • Cingulated Sulcus
  • Orbital Frontal Regions
  • Basal Ganglia
  • Insular Cortex
  • Bilateral Damage
  • Facial Feedback Hypothesis (FFH)
  • Facial Musculature
  • Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI)
  • Ventromedial Prefrontal Cortex
  • Lingual Gyrus
  • Premotor Cortex
  • Lateral Prefrontal Regions
  • Bilateral Inferior Area
  • Superior Temporal Area
  • Dorsal Anterior Cingulated
  • Somatosensory Cortex
  • Middle Temporal Regions
  • Prosodic Channel
  • Content Channel
  • Intensity
  • Speech Rate
  • Fundamental Frequency

Test your Knowledge: A Quick Quiz[edit]



The first traditional assumptions of emotional expression was the suggestion that expressions of emotion?

Were a result of natural selection.
Were a result of an individuals hormones.
A God-given and universal language.
All of the above.


True or False? The amygdala is a critical component of a network of regions that are involved in social cognition, particularly for the processing of emotions in facial expressions.

False .


Subtle changes that occur in the configuration of an individual’s face can significantly impair an individual’s ability to?

Identify the person.
Recognize the correct facial expressions.
Recognize happy facial expressions.
All of the above.


True of False? The strong version of the FFH proposes that an individual’s facial feedback modifies the intensity of the emotion, not causes it:



True or False? An individual’s ability to identify fear in facial expression depends critically on the eyes.


See also[edit]


Batty, M & Taylor, M, J. (2003). Early processing of the six basic facial emotional expressions. Cognitive Brain research, 17, 613-630.

Cohen, A, S., Minor, K, S., Najolia, G, M., & Lee Hong, S. (2009). A laboratory-based procedure for measuring emotional expression from natural speech. Behavior Research Methods,

41 (1), 204-212.

Fasel, B., & Luettin, J. (2003). Automatic facial expression analysis: A survey. The Journal of Pattern Recognition Society, 36(1), 259-275.

Hadj-Bouziane, F., Bell, A. H., Knusten, T. A., Ungerleider, L. G. & Tootell, R. B. H. (2008).Perception ofemotional expressions is independent of face selectivity in monkey inferior

temporal cortex.Proceedings of the National Acadamy of Sciences, 105, 5591–5596.

Jiang, Y, & He, S. (2006). Cortical responses to invisible faces: Dissociating subsystems for facial-information processing. Current Biology, 16, 2023-2029.

Keightley, M. L., Chiew, K. S., Winocur, G., & Grady, C. L. (2007). Age-related differences in brain activity underlying identification of emotional expressions in faces. Social Cognitive

and Affective Neuroscience, 2(4), 1-11.

Niedenthal, P., M., Brauer, M., Halberstadt, J., B., Innes-Ker A, H. (2001). When did her smile drop? Facial mimicry and the influences of emotional state on the detection of change in

emotional expression. Cognition and Emotion, 15(6), 853-864.

Niedenthal, P. M., Krauth-Gruber, S., & Ric, F. (2006). Psychology of emotion: Interpersonal, experiential, and cognitive approaches. New York, NY: Psychology Press.

Phelps, E., A. (2006). Emotion and cognition: insights from studies of the human amygdale. Annual Revision of Psychology, 57, 27-53.

Reeve, J. (2009). Understanding motivation and emotion (5th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Russell, J. A., Bachorowski, J., & Fernandez-Dols, J. (2003). Facial and vocal expressions of emotion. Annual Review of Psychology, 54, 329-349.

Scherer, K, R. (2003). Vocal communication of emotion: A review of research paradigms. Speech Communication, 40, 227-256.

Scherer, K., R & Ellgring, H (2007) Multimodal expression of emotion: Affect programs or componential Appraisal patterns? Emotion, 7(1), 158-171.

Schirmer, A., Striano, T, & Friederici, A, D. (2005). Sex differences in the preattentive processing of vocal emotional expressions. Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuropsychology 16(6),