GLASGOW, Scotland, Sept. 1 (UPI) — People in different cultures perceive emotional facial expressions in unique ways, which can lead to cross-cultural misunderstandings, a Scottish study says.
The study, published in the American Psychological Association’s Journal of Experimental Psychology, challenges prior research that suggested facial expressions are a hard-wired human behavior with evolutionary origins that wouldn’t differ across cultures.
“By conducting this study, we hoped to show that people from different cultures think about facial expressions in different ways,” lead researcher Rachael E. Jack of the University of Glasgow said. “East Asians and Western Caucasians differ in terms of the features they think constitute an angry face or a happy face.”
Fifteen Chinese people and 15 Caucasians living in Glasgow took part in the study, viewing emotion-neutral faces that were randomly altered on a computer screen.
The participants categorized the altered facial expressions as happy, sad, surprised, fearful, disgusted or angry.
The study found the Chinese participants relied on the eyes more to judge facial expressions while Western Caucasians relied on the eyebrows and mouth.
“Our findings highlight the importance of understanding cultural differences in communication, which is particularly relevant in our increasingly connected world,” Jack said.