Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience


Affective Brain Lab Seminar: Lasana Harris

01 March 2018, 5:15 pm–6:15 pm

This week's Affective Brain Lab talk series will be given by Lasana Harris.

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Affective Brain Lab


Seminar Room 313, UCL Experimental Psychology Department, 26 Bedford Way

TITLE: Evolution or Construction?: Examining the interaction of language, processing time, and mimicry on facial emotion expression categorization.

SPEAKER: Lasana Harris (UCL)


Scholars debate whether adult emotional facial expression recognition occurs independently of conscious cognitive processes, via facial mimicry, or whether it is constructed by contextual factors, such as language. Interestingly, developmental psychology research finds that preverbal infants focus on perceptual facial cues. Thus, it appears that several factors (processing time, facial mimicry, language, perceptual cues) interact to influence emotional facial expression recognition. However, previous research has frequently confounded these factors, particularly language, making it impossible to ascertain how adults use this information to recognize emotions. Across an infant and adult paradigm, participants categorized familiarized and novel anger and disgust emotional facial expressions in a novel computerized task, modeled on similar tasks in the developmental literature with preverbal infants. For the adults, experimental conditions manipulated (a) whether the task was time-restricted, and (b) whether the words “anger” and “disgust” were used in the instructions. Adult participants were significantly more accurate when provided with unlimited time and emotion labels. In addition, facial mimicry related to greater accuracy, particularly for anger expressions and novel faces. However, participants were not more accurate with familiarized faces compared to novel faces, suggesting that this perceptual cue was not helpful for adults. However, infants utilized perceptual cues (low-level strategies) to process emotional expressions. Therefore, we dissociate adult strategies from infants; adults may rely on language and other contextual factors (high-level strategies, while infants focus on perceptual information (low-level strategy).