Deciphering the Enigmatic Face: The Importance of Facial Dynamics in Interpreting Subtle Facial Expressions

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Most studies investigating the recognition of facial expressions have focused on static displays of intense expressions. Consequently, researchers may have underestimated the importance of motion in deciphering the subtle expressions that permeate real-life situations. In two experiments, we examined the effect of motion on perception of subtle facial expressions and tested the hypotheses that motion improves affect judgment by (a) providing denser sampling of expressions, (b) providing dynamic information, (c) facilitating configural processing, and (d) enhancing the perception of change. Participants viewed faces depicting subtle facial expressions in four modes (single-static, multi-static, dynamic, and first-last). Experiment 1 demonstrated a robust effect of motion and suggested that this effect was due to the dynamic property of the expression. Experiment 2 showed that the beneficial effect of motion may be due more specifically to its role in perception of change. Together, these experiments demonstrated the importance of motion in identifying subtle facial expressions.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: University of Pittsburgh and 2: University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Publication date: May 1, 2005

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