Am I :-) or (^_^) ?

According to the BBC, researchers have found that how one interprets facial expressions may depend on one’s cultural upbringing.

East Asians participants tended to focus on the eyes of the other person, while Western subjects took in the whole face, including the eyes and the mouth.

Co-author, Dr Rachael Jack, from the University of Glasgow, said: “Interestingly, although the eye region is ambiguous, subjects tended to bias their judgements towards less socially-threatening emotions – surprise rather than fear, for example.

“This perhaps highlights cultural differences when it comes to the social acceptability of emotions.”

The study also raises a good point about the differences between Japanese and Western emoticons. Read the full article here to find out more.

Interestingly, an article published two years ago – citing a Japanese scientist this time – seems to lend credence to the researchers’ findings.

6 Responses

  1. This brings back vague memories of my social psychology classes. While basic emotions like happiness, sadness and anger are universal, the ambiguous ones like disgust and contempt can get downright ambiguous between cultures. For one reason or another it seems different cultures unconsciously focus on different parts of the face, so it could be harder to get the whole picture when you’re focusing on a particular area.

    Also, the Asian emoticons they listed are horribly out of date. They should have researched 2ch to see all the stupid emoticons that are used these days.


  2. It is amazing how many headlines were generated by this small study. Undoubtedly, some differences exist, but jumping to conclusions based on such a small sample is preposterous.

  3. Read this article a little while ago, but ehh I’m a little skeptical of it too. Still trying to see whether it applies to my own (or our own) culture indeed, hmm

  4. @Noirsword: Someone somewhere has probably thought of this already, but an up-to-date wiki-style emoticon dictionary would work wonders for the web’s less smiley-savvy denizens. I’ve seen mini-dictionaries and websites dedicated to this sort of thing, but nothing on a large scale.

    @Kitsune: True, the small sample size is less than reassuring. Even if they had used twice the number of participants, that probably still wouldn’t satisfy my econometrics professor.

    @usagijen: I’d also read it with a healthy dose of measured scepticism, but I wouldn’t dismiss it outright. It would be best if someone carried out a more thorough study and put some of our doubts to rest.

    “Still trying to see whether it applies to my own (or our own) culture”

    Sounds like this could make a good thesis proposal.

  5. I never thought of viewing Asian ascii emotes as a reflection of how they distinguish faces in real life.

    Very interesting read.

  6. @Anamae: The study has its flaws – but you’re right, it makes an interesting assertion on that point.

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