Big picture

Download PDF for photo, by the Queen’s University Belfast emotion team. If your work lends itself to a striking visual image, get in touch on [email protected]

An emotional snapshot

This snapshot of dynamic emotion shows a powerfully negative reaction to a loud noise, which was followed within a second by laughter. It’s all part of research led by Dr Ian Sneddon (Queen's University Belfast) and published recently in PLoS ONE (tinyurl.com/3clkqfx), which indicates that people in different cultures perceive the same universal patterns of emotional expression, but that they differ in the intensity at which they rate that emotion.

This snapshot of dynamic emotion shows a powerfully negative reaction to a loud noise, which was followed within a second by laughter. It’s all part of research led by Dr Ian Sneddon (Queen's University Belfast) and published recently in PLoS ONE (tinyurl.com/3clkqfx), which indicates that people in different cultures perceive the same universal patterns of emotional expression, but that they differ in the intensity at which they rate that emotion.

Dr Gary McKeown, another researcher on the study, suggests that this is due to the differing levels of emotion commonly expressed in different cultures. ‘If you live in a country where people around you typically have a low level of emotional expression, like the UK, then you will rate a given instance of emotional display as denoting a higher level of underlying emotion than if you lived in a country where people are typically more emotionally expressive, such as the Mediterranean countries. We are in the middle of a research programme to test this idea and we are collecting emotional expressions from people in different countries.’

Whereas previous research has largely been based on still photographs of emotion, the Queen’s University Belfast team have used video stimuli. ‘Much emotional information is carried in the movement and transitions between facial expressions. Even taking a still picture from a dynamic sequence can give a misleading impression about the overall emotional situation.’

These cross-cultural examples of dynamic emotional expression in response to stimuli – such as disgust in response to unknowingly placing a hand in a bowl of cold spaghetti – have been collected into a database available to the research community. To access the Belfast Induced Natural Emotion Database, see www.psych.qub.ac.uk/BINED.

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